By Margaret Littman
When your family doesn’t love the one you love, life can be tough. Luckily, there are ways to cope when relatives clash.
With Romeo and Juliet, it seemed romantic. So, too, was it when Edward VIII gave up his throne so that he could marry Wallis Warfield Simpson. But in real life, when your parents (or other family members) disapprove of your fiancé, it seems anything but romantic. Stressful, unfair, insurmountable and frustrating, perhaps, but not romantic.
Disapproval rears its ugly head for many reasons, some legitimate, some not as much. Debbie Mandel, author of “Addicted to Stress: A Woman’s Seven Step Program to Reclaim Joy and Spontaneity in Life” (Jossey-Bass, 2008), says that most often parents’ concerns sprout because they love you and want what’s best for you, not because they’re trying to make your engagement a living hell. Knowing that your family means well, it makes sense to give some thought to what they have to say.
“Caution is a useful ally in making a choice that could affect one’s whole life and possible offspring. It is helpful to really take time in building the primary relationship before marriage and to get the counsel from several trusted elders,” says Dorothea Hover-Kramer, Ed.D., author of “Second Chance at Your Dream” (Energy Psychology Press, March 2009).
So, hear your family out. Does your fiancé have a past – such as a string of failed relationships or businesses – that give them pause? Is religion a hot-button issue? Or, are their concerns more superficial? Once you’ve considered to their objectives and are confident in your decision, you need to develop a plan of action. The first step is to ask, “‘What is my desired outcome?’ A desired outcome must be something over which you have control,” explains Loren Gelberg-Goff, LCSW, a private-practice marriage counselor in River Edge, N.J.
Your desired outcome will depend on what the roots of the disapproval are and how you would like your relationship with your family to evolve as you get older and build a family of your own.
Once you know what you want to happen, and have a reasonable expectation that it is something you can achieve, follow these nine tips for diffusing the disapproval.
1. Make sure it isn’t all in your head
Verify that there is an issue and that you haven’t misinterpreted innocent actions as slights or insults. Patricia Covalt, Ph.D., author of “What Smart Couples Know: The Secret to a Happy Relationship” (Amacom, 2007) suggests asking: “‘I get the sense that you don’t completely approve of [John]. Is that right?’ If your instincts are right, ask for more detail: ‘Can you tell me what it is that you don’t like about him?’ Don’t defend your fiancé or make excuses, just get information. Keep the lines of communication open.”
2. Think big
If you expect there to be tension, bring your fiancé to see your family when there is a decent-sized group. This will help to take the focus off your fiancé and give him some fallback family members to speak with if things are awkward with some of them.
3. Once you know what the issue is, you can set about addressing it
If it has to do with interfaith marriage or cultural differences, you can talk with your soon-to-be-spouse about how you will deal with issues that come up over the years (you probably already have) and then you can show your family together how you’ve thought through their concerns.
4. Watch how your family interacts with your love at family events
Don’t be a hawk, but don’t leave him flapping in the wind, either. The more information you have about how they act together, the better you’ll be able to help bridge gaps.
5. Preserve private time
Keep making plans to see the parent or other family member who has concerns, alone, without your fiancé, to preserve the connection, says Susan Newman, Ph.D., a social psychologist and author of “The Book of NO (McGraw-Hill, 2005). If your family sees that you are really listening to what they have to say and taking it into consideration, they may be more willing to compromise.
6. Share information
You don’t want too take sides or share secrets. But the more you can help your fiancé see your family’s point of view, and the more he knows about their interests and background, the more he can take steps toward reconciliation. And vice versa. Ask yourself if you have given your family enough opportunity to get to know your husband- or bride-to-be. If not, think about ways to bridge the gap.
7. Take a stand
If you’ve tried all of the above, or your feel their concerns aren’t based in fact, tell you family the topic is off-limits. If they can keep their negativity to themselves, you may be able to continue with an “agree to disagree” pact for the short-term. Over the years, time often changes attitudes and feelings, Newman says.
8. Stay mum
Do not repeat negative things said by your family members to your fiancé. Or vice versa, says Elinor Robin, Ph.D. a family and divorce mediator in Boca Raton, Fla. All you’ll do is fuel the fire.
9. Finally, not all conflicts can be easily remedied
In some cases, you may just have to tell your family that you are an adult, you’ve made choices in your life, and you hope that, in time, they’ll come to accept them. It won’t be easy; they don’t call it tough love for nothing, but it may be the way you come to terms in the long run.
(c) CTW Features