When I was in my early twenties, I had my first real “adult” boyfriend. We’d been official for maybe a month, saw each other pretty much every day, and in that glow of fun, “new couple” time, it seemed like it might get serious.
After a few months of dating, I thought I should bring him home to meet my mom and dad. They didn’t live far, I’d already met his parents, and so I scheduled a Sunday lunch.
I don’t know what I expected. Looking back, I probably should have seen the conflict coming. But my boyfriend broke a whole bunch of etiquette rules that day, did not mesh with my family dynamic, and my parents were simply not fans of him for me.
In retrospect, they definitely had valid concerns about the long-term viability, which I started to see. But until we broke up, I was constantly aware of their disapproval every time I’d chat with my mom or cross paths with my dad. It was a hard situation to navigate. And it’s not an uncommon one.
When I saw headlines that Selena Gomez’s mom was a major reason for her “break” from Justin Bieber, I felt big pangs of empathy for Gomez in that scenario (of course, assuming the tabloid rumors were true). I also felt those same relatable vibes for all the men and women who would bring up this common problem while I was interviewing them for my book.
I’m not generally a people-pleaser, but ever since that first experience with my ex, man, do I want my family and friends to approve of my partner. This is your home team, after all, and these are your people; for every flame who may or may not burn out, your friends and family are (hopefully) in your life for the long haul.
They also, theoretically, should have your back more than anyone else, so their concerns do factor into your perception of a partner’s compatibility. But how much concern is normal, and what if there’s too much disapproval going around? It’s inevitably tricky.
Basically, you have to decide which concerns matter to you and which ones don’t, says Chamin Ajjan, a couples therapist and author of Seeking Soulmate: Ditch the Dating Game and Find Real Connection. There are still plenty of “superficial” or subjective reasons friends or family may disapprove of your partner, “such as ethnic background, social class, religious background, or where they are from,” Ajjan explains. “Only you and your partner can decide if the life you are building together will work for you.”
And while it’s ideal if everyone simply loves your significant other, that isn’t always realistic, says Julie Spira, a dating and online dating expert. A few friends might also have a subconscious issue blocking their ability to be happy for you. “You’ll find someone who isn’t happy in their own relationship, or is single and is putting their own envious emotions ahead of what’s best for you,” she explains. “In this case, assess the situation and have conversations with the naysayer, asking them to give your partner a chance if they truly are making you happy.”
Spira also believes that “it’s healthy for couples to have both separate friends outside of the relationship and friends together.” So if not everyone gets along or is a seamless fit personality-wise, it’s still okay. But she adds: “Having your parents and family vehemently not approve of your partner is problematic.”
If you’ve got more friends and family members saying, “I don’t think this person is for you” than those giving their stamp of approval, it’s time to take a hard look at the relationship through your friends’ eyes, says Spira. “Your friends want the best for you,” she explains. “If the majority of them don’t approve of your partner, there’s usually a good reason why.”
Ajjan points to the major reasons you should heed your squad’s warnings about a significant other: “If your friends and family are bringing up concerns about safety, threatening behavior, a history of abusive relationships, inappropriate interactions or catching your partner in lies, it is important to take these concerns into account,” she says.
The hardest of these squad vs. SO situations? When you get back with an ex. You’ve probably spilled your guts to your closest friends, your mom, your sister — and let’s be real: they probably still feel protective of you and don’t want to see you hurt again. “People will be quick to tell you not to put your hand in the fire again,” Spira says. “It’s best to explain that people change, you’re giving the relationship another shot, and you hope they will support you in this decision.” Encourage them to reassess you guys as a new couple, under new circumstances, especially if it’s been more than a year.
If you do decide to pursue a relationship where there’s family or friend disapproval for whatever reason, you should have a good sense of the skill set involved in navigating situations where your bond will be tested. “This can cause a pretty big strain on the relationship,” Ajjan says. “The couples who have strong relationships built on good communication, mutual respect, trust and cooperation tend to manage this problem better.” If you have poor boundaries with your family or your friends, or you compulsively need their approval, the issue “may be insurmountable,” she adds.
Sometimes, people also just need time. Maybe friends and family got off on the wrong foot with your significant other, or it’s not who they wanted for you — perhaps everyone was just in looooove with your ex, for instance. “If you’re committed to the relationship, create a healthy separation,” Spira says. “Spend time together, alone with your partner creating new memories, and a separate time alone with your friends and family. Hopefully, in time, everyone will realize you’re happy and will warm up to accepting you and your partner.”
Jenna Birch is the author of The Love Gap: A Radical Plan to Win in Life and Love (Grand Central Life & Style). Her relationship column appears on Yahoo every Monday. To ask her a question, which may appear in an upcoming post, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Yahoo question” in the subject line.
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