It’s not always easy to involve your family in your love life. As open-minded as your parents might be, they may have some expectations or preconceived notions about the person they picture you dating, and chances are that your significant other isn’t going to tick all the boxes. My Irish-Catholic family never imagined me marrying an Italian Jew, and yet here we are. But I’m lucky — my family has been accepting of my partner since the moment they met him, and not everyone has that luxury. If you’re struggling with how to tell your family about your relationship, you’re not alone, because it can be seriously scary.
What’s the best way to tackle the conversation, on the phone or face-to-face? What do you do if your family isn’t accepting of your partner’s religion or race or sexual orientation or gender identity? There are plenty of factors to consider before telling your parents about a new relationship, and there are even more reasons why you may be apprehensive about doing it. Elite Daily spoke to Melody Li, licensed marriage and family therapist and multicultural couples specialist, as well as Anne Beverly, counselor in residence at Bluebird Counseling Center, and they shared some tips on navigating this tricky topic.
Have The Conversation Face-To-Face
Fact: IRL conversations are always scarier than electronic ones. The problem with having a conversation about your new partner over the phone (or worse, through texting) is that it’s nearly impossible for both parties to express everything they’re feeling. Though you may be feeling hurt over a poor reaction, your parents may only hear anger, which leads to a lot of confusion and misinterpretation.
"Face-to-face conversations will give all parties the most amount of information (e.g. from verbal and energetic cues), which can range from enlightening to frightening, depending on the family’s style of communication," Li explains. As tough as it is, talking directly to your family will elicit the most empathy and give you the best results.
Pick A Neutral Territory For the Conversation
Another factor to consider is where to have the conversation. Speaking to your parents at either your own home or theirs leads to someone feeling safer and someone feeling a bit trapped, and both parties should feel they have equal ownership over the space.
"If one intends on having face-to-face conversation but are concerned about boundaries violation, consider having the conversation at a ‘neutral territory’ where both parties have equal grounds and can step aside to regulate emotions, such as at a park," Li suggests. That way, everyone has the freedom to leave (even if it’s just briefly) if they need to.
Explain To Your Family What Your Partner Provides You
As tempting as it might be to be to tell your family, "This person is my partner, and if you don’t like them, tough luck," it will be much easier for your family to feel receptive if you tell them just how much your partner means to you. Even if your family feels biased against an element of your partner’s identity, demonstrating that your partner is more than just that one factor can make a big difference.
Beverly suggests that, before the conversation takes place, you should ask yourself: What does this person do for me? "You might say that this person makes me less anxious," she says. "You might say that this person is there for me to lean on in tough times. Explain why you chose to bring this person into your life." It’s much harder for your family not to warm to a person who clearly cares about you.
Be Direct With What You Want From Your Family
Having realistic expectations before you go into the conversation is important, but even more important is knowing what you (and your partner) want to achieve with the conversation. "I encourage the couple to first communicate openly about hopes and expectations," Li says. Do you simply see this as an opportunity to share, or are you hoping for the conversation to conclude with acceptance?
"Above all, say what you want," Beverly stresses. "If you want support, then tell your family, ‘I want your support.’ In my experience with clients, families almost always respond with more openness than you’d expect, and families oftentimes prove themselves to be more supportive than you give them credit for." Remember that you are initiating this conversation, so you need to know what you want from it (and know than your family might be more willing to listen that you think!).
Remember That This May Involve Multiple Conversations
In an ideal world, you and your family would have this conversation in 30 minutes and then move on with your lives. In reality, telling your family about a new partner might take more than one conversation, maybe even several conversations.
"Keep in mind that this process may require multiple conversations," Li says. "Knowing this, it may be helpful to establish some healthy boundaries right off the bat. For example, keep language respectful and avoid making character judgements."
Open communication is not only important to have with your family, but with your partner as well. "I invite the couple to discuss ways that they can offer each other support and compassion, especially if they are met with disappointing outcomes," she adds. It may take a while, but the right partner and a compassionate family will eventually lead to a conversation that has a satisfying conclusion.
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