By Suzannah Weiss. Photos: Stocksy.
We often turn to our friends for validation of our relationships—or at least for group activities that involve our significant others. So when they don't like who we're dating, it's not only inconvenient but can be downright troubling. Does it mean the relationship's unhealthy and you just can't see it? Were the Spice Girls right all along about our lovers having to get along with our friends?!
According to psychotherapist and Harvard lecturer Holly Parker, PhD, author of If We're Together, Why Do I Feel So Alone?, it depends on exactly what your friends' problem is when it comes to your S.O. That means the best you can do is ask why they don't like them.
A study in Personal Relationships found that friends are more likely to support relationships that they believe are making their friends happy. If they feel you're unhappy or your partner isn't treating you well (or if he or she doesn't treat others well generally), listen without getting defensive. Hearing their observations might spare you the need to learn about a character flaw of your partner's the hard way, or clue you into a problem with the relationship that you haven't noticed (or sort of noticed but didn't totally want to acknowledge).
But maybe your friends are uncomfortable with the relationship because your partner is different from them. If you personally find those differences to be "perfectly acceptable, but just unique," they're not grounds for a breakup, says Parker. For example, maybe your buds disagree with your S.O. about politics or religion. Even if you do too, you might view those disagreements as reconcilable. That's a call you might have to make.
Then there are more problematic reasons friends might oppose a relationship. Same-sex couples, interracial couples, and couples with large age differences tend to face the most stigma, according to a study in the Journal of Family Psychology. If your relationship fits into either of those categories, meet their criticism with a healthy dose of your own skepticism.
So how do you tease valuable information apart from unfair prejudice? Get as specific as you can with your questions, says Parker. "If your friends say they think your partner is too different from you, you might ask them to tell you more about the differences they see. Or if they reveal concerns with how your partner treats you, consider asking them to give you examples so you understand it better," she suggests. "Give your friends a non-defensive, listening ear so you can use their perspective as information, because that’s what it essentially is. From there, our gut is often our best guide in deciding what's a warning sign versus what is a friend’s personal preference or bias."
If you want to be diplomatic, you can try asking, "What would need to happen for you to like them?," says Parker. If the answer is nothing—or something that probably can't be changed—there's not much you can do. But if you're in a healthy relationship, more time around your S.O. could help your friends see how happy you are. Ask them how much time together they can tolerate, and start out with a little bit at a time.
That said, if your friends really do have reasonable reservations about your partner, keep your eyes open for signs of what they're talking about. Hopefully they won't end a friendship over it, and you can use them as a sounding board to discuss any issues that become clearer. And if they turn out to be right, your good friends will be there to help rather than say, "I told you so."
This story originally appeared on Glamour.
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