Relationships are tricky to navigate on their own without third-party factors like family dynamics getting involved. Typically, though, it’s hard to be romantically involved with one person without being involved, in some way, with several others ― their family members.
In the politically tense climate we’re currently living in, family dynamics can be more polarizing than ever. Yet race, sexuality and simply having different viewpoints have long contributed to tensions between couples and their families.
It’s not immediately clear whether a positive relationship with your partner’s family helps or hurts your relationship as a couple. But anecdotally, fraught relationships with one another’s families have different effects on different couples, as the seven stories below demonstrate. In some cases, the couple developed a stronger connection, while others were pulled apart by the conflict.
They say you don’t know what’s going on in a couple’s relationship until you share a bed with them, but you also don’t know what’s going on between a couple and their families unless you join them for dinner. So, to highlight the fact that many of us are going through similar situations, we’ve decided to pull up a chair.
The issues described by the anonymous couples below below range in severity, but they can hopefully remind us that everyone has their own issues, and that you are not alone.
1. “They’re hoping we get divorced before he ruins my life, and we’re hoping we can move before Thanksgiving.”
“My family doesn’t get along with my spouse of 17 years, for both political and religious reasons. They believe that as a woman, I am fundamentally incapable of developing my own religious and political ideals, and it’s entirely my husband’s fault that I have ideas that differ from theirs.
My family is Christian (Southern Baptist, specifically). They’re so politically conservative that I think they might cross over into alt-right territory. They’re overjoyed with the political situation in America right now.
My husband is Jewish, ethnically and in terms of his religious upbringing. He believes in Christianity but identifies as Jewish because ethnically and culturally, he is. He considers himself feminist, in that he believes women and men are equal and should be treated as such. He considers himself to be politically conservative ― but, the sort of conservative who thinks the government shouldn’t overspend, and we shouldn’t tell others how to live their lives. He doesn’t identify with the Republican Party in its current form. In general, I share his views.
My family is convinced that I share his opinions only because he brainwashed me with all this liberal Jewish nonsense.
I’m currently pursuing a national security degree, with a 4.0 GPA. I have an aeronautics degree and two pilot certificates, I’m researching master’s programs, and I work at my local airport.
We’re planning to move overseas in the next year. My career is the primary reason we’ve made this decision. My family thinks we’re moving because his latent liberalism and Judaism have suddenly re-emerged, and I’m giving up all hope of a future by going along with his irrational hysteria. For the most part, they’re hoping we get divorced before he ruins my life, and we’re hoping we can move before Thanksgiving just so we don’t have to make up a convincing lie about why we’re not going to be at dinner.”
2. “In their eyes, as they’ve said, we won’t be married and so, our children won’t be legitimate.”
“My boyfriend and I are recently engaged! Three years together, living together for a year and a half. My fiance’s parents are DEVOUT Catholics. They said quite quickly after we got engaged that they would not be attending our wedding if it was not a Catholic ceremony in a Catholic church. It is so hard for us to enjoy this time we have to plan a wedding. We are fighting over things we’ve already and still do agree on. My fiance’s mother has even gone so far as to call other Catholics we might be inviting to let them know of our ‘situation.’
I don’t think there will be a ‘healthy’ resolution, by any means. There will always be bitterness, I think, on the subject. We might forgive, but how could we forget? In their eyes, as they’ve said, we won’t be married and so, our children won’t be legitimate.
The only thing I can think of as far as advice goes is to pour yourself some champagne and work on planning your wedding. Focus on the future that you and your partner are creating, regardless of the speed bumps. It’s still your wedding. It’s still your life. You might be fine with it for awhile and you might need to cry about it every once in awhile. In the end, it’s their decision [to cause conflict]. Not yours.”
3. “I do not think she and I will ever be friends, but getting him to finally set her straight made me trust and love him more.”
“My mother-in-law and I don’t get along. At all. I have learned to ignore her commentary about everyone, including myself. What really gets me, though, is that she is a bit racist. I have a zero-tolerance policy for that. My deep concern is, as we start thinking about having children, that I won’t be comfortable leaving them with Grandma because they will be subject to ... those words.
It has put my husband and me in a pretty bad spot throughout the years. Most recently, we got into a battle while visiting that turned into three months’ worth of silent treatment and my husband and I entering couple’s therapy. The counselor gave him a plan of attack on how to speak to [his mother], and he did. I do not think she and I will ever be friends, but getting him to finally set her straight made me trust and love him more, and she’s been much better-behaved since our visit.”
4. “She blames my husband for the views that I have, the ones I had for many years prior to meeting my husband.”
“My mother has been very negative toward my husband for nearly five years. We’ve been together more than ten.
Most of my life, my mother and I seemed to be of similar beliefs, but a few years prior to meeting my husband, she married a man who is Mormon. She’d never been religious prior to marrying him. She dove head-first into the new religion, and started to find more and more reasons to be mean or degrading toward my husband. We’ve been in a challenging position for a long time, as we rely on her for daycare. She blames my husband for the views that I have, the ones I had for many years prior to meeting my husband.”
5. “The level of drama this woman sunk to would make a high-schooler blush.”
“When I was in college, I began dating someone. When his mother learned I was white, she insisted he dump me immediately. The first time we met, she was incredibly cold and refused to have a conversation with me. When I went home with him around Christmastime, his mother was still extremely cold but at least acknowledged my existence.
She had me sleep on the floor of his five-year-old brother’s room, which was awkward enough, but when I awoke the next morning, I realized everyone had been up for hours. She gave me a nasty attitude about how rude I was to have ‘slept in,’ even though no one attempted to wake me and she actively discouraged my boyfriend from doing so.
Shortly after that, she called my mom to try to figure out a plan to break us both up, as she had assumed that my mom was against us dating since we were different races. My mom was flabbergasted and upset and wanted nothing to do with his mom’s idea. Since she knew my mom would eventually tell me this, she tried to cut her off at the pass by lying to her son and claiming my mom was trying to break us up. The level of drama this woman sunk to would make a high schooler blush.”
6. “I haven’t heard from her since the letter refusing to meet him.”
“Two years ago, I wrote a letter to my mother, telling her I had found the man I was going to marry. She responded that she was sure he was a wonderful man, but that she “cannot meet a man you’re having sex with.”
I explained in my letter that I respected her religious convictions and I knew we could not stay at her house as a couple if we visited, but I expected my partner would be treated with the same respect as any woman I might have brought home. I also said that my goal was to find a way to honor her convictions, honor my commitment to this man as a part of the family, and be able to go forward participating in family functions. I haven’t heard from her since the letter refusing to meet him.”
7. “Hearing how his own mother speaks to him and the other members of the family never sat well with me.”
“My fiance’s family and I don’t get along because of the differing family dynamics. I was raised in a household where respect and familial loyalty were No. 1. He was raised in a family where I’ve heard his own mother make fun of him for being overweight on several and far too many occasions.
It’s one thing coming from his brothers, but hearing how his own mother speaks to him and the other members of the family never sat well with me. I don’t get along with them because I’ve spoken up about how their words carry weight, and although they genuinely believe their family members aren’t affected, they truly are. At least behind my closed doors, I hear they are. I’m wildly uncomfortable at family gatherings because of the tension, but I’m “obligated” to show up to everything and keep my mouth shut from now on.
In the beginning, it was tough on the two of us because he didn’t understand why there was an issue. He was blind to everything that fell under “his normal” because to him, it was just that. Normal. We fought a bunch, but thankfully over the years he’s been able to step back and see the bigger picture and understand where I’m coming from, and I’ve gotten better at trying to adjust to his family culture.” ᐧ