1. Don’t Force Togetherness
Have you ever been to a gathering where everything seemed fine on the surface, but you could just feel the absolute tension in the room? Maybe it was your friend’s household when you slept over as a kid, or maybe it happened during an extended family reunion of yours.
This is what happens when people make it a habit to bury conflicts, but force themselves to hang out together anyway.
They do so at first with good intentions. They just want to be able to spend time with the family without arguing all the time. After awhile, though, that resentment can fester if no one ever talks about it. It’s like the elephant in the room.
Is that the sort of relationship you want your boyfriend to have with your family? A sort of tense resignation? Fake smiles and fake respect? Or do you want to actually address what’s beneath the surface?
If you force your family and boyfriend to hang out together when they hate each other, they will have to find some way to politely cope. This could end up reinforcing the bad habit of burying their resentment towards each other deeper and deeper. If you want them to actually get along and not just pretend, the differences need to come up to the surface.
Addressing and processing disagreements is rarely pleasant, even when done respectfully—but if this relationship is important to you, and especially if you plan to marry your partner, these root issues need to be resolved somehow.
If you’ve gone as far as to get engaged, consider hiring a family therapist. Yes, seriously. You can’t force your loved ones to get along, but this doesn’t mean you should bury conflicts, either.
And if they really just can’t stand each other, let everyone have their space. Don’t push the issue.
Having a disapproving family doesn’t mean that you can’t still have fun together.
2. Create Positive Associations
Now, maybe the reason why your family doesn’t like your boyfriend is not that complicated. We tend to associate people with the situations we meet them in, and maybe the first time they saw him, it was under negative circumstances.
Does your family always see your boyfriend during high-stress situations? Did they meet him when they were picking you up from his house after one of your breakups? From their perspective, does the sight of his face signal that something unpleasant is about to happen?
Well, it’s hard to undo first impressions, but you can try to slowly replace them with positive associations. Find something that everybody would like to do, something universal that is hard to do “wrong.” For instance, maybe you can all go to a favorite restaurant.
Choose a place that is neutral ground. Not your place, not his place, not your parents’ house. This allows anybody who needs to “escape” to do so if things get the least bit heated. It also means that your boyfriend will get to experience being part of the “in group” because he will automatically be a member of your party in a building full of strangers, instead of an outsider at your family home.
Remember the first point: Don’t force togetherness. Guide things along as organically as you can. Arrange for these meetings regularly, and in time your family may just get used to him.
The Importance of Your Family Liking Your Boyfriend
3. Be Mindful of How You Vent About Your Relationship Problems
Imagine that your sister just found herself a new boyfriend. Every time they get into a big argument, she comes over to your house to vent. She goes on and on about all her doubts in the relationship, all of the incompatibilities, and all of her boyfriend’s weaknesses.
She’s in a bad mood, so her focus is on all the bad things that her boyfriend has done. There could be a million great things about him, but she’ll forget all about them in the heat of the moment. In spite of it all, she’s still with him. To her, this is probably just one difficult moment in the midst of an otherwise beautiful relationship, and his pros outweigh his cons.
That’s not what you’re seeing, though. Since you don’t know her boyfriend personally, all you have to go on is what she tells you—and what she’s telling you is actually pretty one-sided. You’re bound to have a negative impression of her boyfriend and start wondering why she’s with him. You may think he’s worthless and that he doesn’t deserve her. You may even encourage her to leave.
Now, imagine that instead of your sister, it is you who has been complaining about your boyfriend to your family. Maybe you don’t have to imagine this because maybe you already do it!
Is it possible that you might have sowed the seeds of dislike by complaining about your boyfriend? There’s nothing wrong with calmly asking family for advice about your relationship problems, but this can become an issue when it is nothing but constant venting. Do you also say positive things about your partner?
Consider this from your family’s perspective. They probably don’t know your boyfriend as well as you do, so they are getting most of their information from you. Be sure that it is realistic and balanced information, not just a list of your frustrations.
You don’t have to make things up or hide the truth, just avoid exaggerating in the heat of the moment. After all, there’s a reason you’re together, isn’t there?
4. Recruit Less Biased Family Members
Maybe your whole family doesn’t hate your boyfriend. Maybe it’s just your parents, or your siblings, or your grandmother. If you have any family that is more neutral about your boyfriend—as often extended family will be–recruit them to soften your other family members.
This could take many forms. Your less biased family member could take some of the tension out of a family gathering by showing up and keeping your boyfriend company, for instance. When your parent or sibling or whoever sees that someone they know is interacting with your boyfriend, it will usually ease some of the awkwardness. This is much better than letting your boyfriend sit by the sidelines while everyone ignores him.
If you insist on taking your boyfriend to a family gathering, make sure that there is at least one person there who will talk to him.
Seeing each other in secret even when your family doesn’t like your boyfriend can seem exciting at first…but it can get old when you can’t be open.
5. Consider That Your Family May Have a Point
Yes, it’s totally possible that your family is 100% in the wrong. They may dislike your boyfriend for extremely dumb or biased reasons.
But could they also have a point? Even if they’re mostly wrong, could there be something they see that you don’t? Could it be that, on some level, your boyfriend really is kind of a jerk?
It’s one thing if your family dislikes your boyfriend because his clothes or hair or tattoos personally offend them, and it’s another thing when they’re warning you that your boyfriend is treating you poorly.
Why exactly do they dislike him? Is it just a personal prejudice and their reasons are more like excuses? Or are they genuinely concerned about your well-being?
Give that some thought. Your family may just be looking out for you. This doesn’t mean you should break up with your boyfriend, but it does mean that they might be seeing something in the relationship that you don’t.
What to Do if Your Family Doesn’t Like Your Boyfriend…and You Can See Why
So what happens if you give all of this some deep thought and it turns out that your family does have a point? Maybe your boyfriend isn’t actually a good match for you or he treats you badly.
It could also be the case that your family is “right” about your boyfriend, but for the wrong reasons. They might have a prejudice against him and he might also legitimately be a bad boyfriend, but their ridiculous reasoning muddles the issue. For example, maybe they hate him because he’s Catholic, which is silly, but they also correctly point out that he’s emotionally abusive.
Consider all these possibilities.
Your first reflex may be to not want to admit it to yourself. It’s also common to try to hold onto the relationship even more tightly than before. Sometimes, the more people tell us to leave someone, the more inclined our subconscious may be to contradict them. Most of us have that little voice inside that doesn’t want to be told what to do by our parents!
Running off together can seem extra romantic when everyone is against you, but that doesn’t mean it’s the greatest idea. Hopefully you’d rather not turn your life into a Shakespearean tragedy.
Admitting that your family has a point might sting, but it’s better than staying in a bad relationship. I’ve actually known people who have done this just to prove their family wrong. As it turned out, that’s not a good reason to stay with someone.
By all means, you don’t have to give your family the satisfaction of telling them they were right. Make it sound like you broke up for some other reason if you have to, but don’t hold on to save face.
Has this been the story of your relationship so far?
Keeping the Peace When Your Family Disapproves
Sometimes things will be out of your hands. Your family may continue to disapprove and their resolve will only slowly erode with time.
In that case, just enjoy your time together. Try to put it out of your mind and don’t force things. At the end of the day, you are the one dating your partner, not your family!