Much as you chose your boyfriend, you don’t get to choose his family, so you might not get along with them half as well (if at all). But before you let one of two extreme scenarios play out (whereby you either exit the relationship or resign to an eventual lifetime of in-law woes), you should try talking about the differences with your dude first. Sure, it’s not going to be easy. But it’s important.
How to have the conversation
Maybe you’ve had a few disagreements with his parents outright. Or maybe they’re just weird around you i.e., they hardly acknowledge your presence or make unprovoked, offhanded remarks. But if they’re making you increasingly uncomfortable, you should have your boyfriend understand what’s going on, and how you feel about it.
“I’d imagine that it’s not that you expect his parents to change, at least not drastically—you just want him to understand the hurt you feel, appreciate your sacrifices and understand why you can’t seem to get along with his parents. You might also hope to know if you are just as important to him,” says Mok Sin Lai, a psychotherapist at Relationship Matters.
“Help him to understand that you don’t want to leave him in a sandwiched position and discuss how you’d like to deal with their apparent dislike of you as a couple. Then leave him to speak to them about it because the parent-child bond is less fragile.”
If you boyfriend becomes defensive, however, it might be because he’s struggling with a couple of fears.
“He may feel that you are being controlling towards him and that you’re treating his parents in the same manner. Or he may feel that things will worsen if he takes a side, so he doesn’t want to [talk about things at all].”
“He may also feel rejected by you if he feels that he is similar to his parents, and wonder if you can accept him if you cannot accept them. As such, he denies your hurt and their behaviour.”
In this instance, Mok Sin recommends expressing your feelings in a non-critical manner and suspending your judgment about his parents. She suggests that you encourage your boyfriend to tell you what he thinks of the situation, and that you make it clear you’re open to trying new ways to interact with his folks.
“When he knows you care about him, he will reciprocate by speaking with his parents or attempting to comfort you,” she says.
Still show respect for his parents in the meantime
Tense as things may be, you should still show your boyfriend’s parents respect. And there are a couple of things you can do to try and earn theirs.
“It’s important to establish healthy boundaries, so when you visit them at their home, greet them and keep to their house rules. Also, don’t show up at their house as and when you like, expect your boyfriend to be there for you 24/7 such that he neglects time with his family, or pry into their privacy unless they offer information on their own,” says Mok Sin. She adds that by carrying out these actions, you’re letting his parents know that you want to give them time and space for deeper understanding
She also points out that when you encourage your boyfriend to spend quality time with them, you make it clear that they did not “lose” their son to his girlfriend. And that if you exert a positive influence on him, they’ll come to realise that he became a better person because of you.
Her last tip? Learn their love languages and make an effort to communicate to them in those languages—it’s hard to imagine that they’d remain unresponsive to the gestures that speak to them.
We don’t get along with everyone we’re supposed to, but sometimes we’ve just got to try harder than we usually do. Good luck.