LIFE

What To Do If Your Parents Don't Like Your Partner

Get ready for some seriously awkward Christmasses.

13/09/2016 8:31 AM AEST | Updated 13/09/2016 2:07 PM AEST
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Robert De Niro -- scariest father-in-law ever?

So, you've met someone, and they're wonderful. You just can't wait for him or her to meet everyone in your life who's important to you, and for those people to come to the same conclusion you have: your new squeeze is pretty much the best thing since sliced bread.

Except when it comes to the Big Parental Introduction, things don't go down so well. For some reason, your folks just can't see the near-perfect specimen that you do. In fact, they see the opposite.

Awkward.

So what do you do?

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"It's a fraught situation, and one of the most difficult things we deal with, with both couples and singles," Matt Garrett, manager at Relationships Australia told The Huffington Post Australia.

"We hear it often. 'I love my boyfriend but everyone else thinks he's the devil incarnate'. What this can do is really catch into some deep-seated feelings and attitudes."

But Garrett also points out -- difficult as it might be to come to terms with -- the situation is actually extremely common and not particularly surprising, either.

"Of course we want our family to appreciate and like our other halves as much as we do," he said. "But in reality, it's not always the case.

"And it's not that surprising, when you think about it. We're all different, we come from different backgrounds and have had different upbringings, and we are going to bring a lot of different -- dare I say it -- baggage to a relationship.

"The first thing to understand when you find yourself in this situation is to realise that it's understandable and perfectly natural and common. We want so much for our new person to be accepted by our family, but at the same time parents have loads of expectations about the sort of people their children are going to finally wind up being with.

"Stakes are high for emotionality."

It could always be worse. You could be Richie from 'The Bachelor'.

The first meeting

When it comes to your parents and your new boy/girlfriend meeting for the first time, Garrett says it's best if the event is kept low-key.

"I think the safest thing is not to raise expectations too much," Garrett said. "You are in the throes of lustful love, so of course you are going to see [your partner] in a certain way which may or may not be realistic in that point of time. You want people to like your new guy or girl.

"What I see often is there will be some kind of big dinner organised, and there will be all this effort put into making this introduction to the family and it becomes a big deal. That just loads the whole situation up with so much pressure.

"I would recommend to scale it back and do something informal, like afternoon tea or drinks.

"That way, you know you're not there for three hours if the atmosphere turns a little bit cold. You can slurp your coffee or finish your drink and nick off."

I think often we can make it worse, asking 'what do you think? Did you like them?' People need time to get to know people.

Don't force it

Just because you're in a new relationship, don't expect your partner to automatically become as involved with your family as you are -- or vice versa.

"What I would be avoiding is the situation where you're saying 'well every Sunday I visit my mum and dad and you're coming along because we're a couple'," Garrett said. "Don't take it personally if a) your new squeeze doesn't want to or b) your parents are asking 'does Barry have to come along every time?'

"Maybe alternate visits so you visit by yourself one time, and with your partner the next."

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Sometimes, not everyone is going to like your partner as much as you do.

Garrett also advises against trying to speed up the bonding process or force things along.

"I think often we can make it worse, asking 'what do you think? Did you like them?' People need time to get to know people," he said.

"And it just might be the case they don't start off on great footing. Now the relationship may or may not develop from there, depending on the interactions they have over time.

"My advice would be to slow the process down, take your own foot off the anxiety pedal and let them get to know each other at their own pace."

Accept the outcome

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, people just don't get along. In this case, your job is to accept the situation as it is.

"Really, it's up to you and your partner to navigate. As long as they are not hostile towards him or her [or vice versa] and your partner is prepared to come to a birthday celebration or similar, sometimes that's as much as you can ask for," Garrett said.

"Definitely don't push it and don't make anyone choose. That's a worst case scenario, and one that I think is unfortunate.

Sometimes it comes down to making the best of a bad mix and a bad fit. There's not a lot you can do about that.

"If [your partner] expects you to choose between your relationship and your family, to me that's really going to colour your relationship. I would seriously consider whether you need to be with this person because that is an unfair request.

"Sometimes it comes down to making the best of a bad mix and a bad fit. There's not a lot you can do about that. Unless of course an incident has happened or there is outright hostility, but that tends to be less common.

"At the end of the day there's often an underlying message here and it's often about you and your own expectations, and not having them met.

"But you have to remember when it comes to your partner, your parents aren't going to marry them. It's okay if they don't see eye to eye. It's okay if they don't have a close relationship."

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If in doubt, try BRIBERY! (Kidding).

Unhealthy relationships

It's worthwhile pointing out this article is not intended for those who may be in unhealthy relationships where domestic violence may be an issue.

As Garrett points out, in cases like these "parents will often notice changes in their children who are affected by a partner who is abusive or controlling.

"Our experience here is that parents can tell their children and warn them over and over again, but even if what the partner is doing is very open, often people -- if they are prepared to stay in a relationship -- aren't open to hearing criticism," he said.

"It's very, very hard for parents and we say to them, in that situation, do what you need to do to protect your child."

In conclusion

For the most part, however, not much can be done about parents and partners who don't get along.

"A lot of it comes down to healthy compromise and coming to terms with the reality that your parents are not going to necessarily get on with this person just because they have hooked up with their son or daughter," Garrett said.

""Parents are always going to be very protective over who their children choose, and that's just the way it is. In saying that, though, don't feel that you have to make excuses or apologise for your partner, either."

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