What happens when your partner’s family don’t like you?
Or when your family don’t like your partner?
Well let me tell you, all hell can break loose and it can mean the end of the relationship. But it doesn’t have to. Apparently…
I’ll be honest. I have encountered this problem a few times. Three times in particular.
The first time I don’t think was really anything much to do with me personally. His mother simply didn’t like anyone much at all. She liked me less because I was married (my first marriage) and then god-forbid I got divorced and maintained a (platonic) friendship with her son (and had done since high school – well before my ill-fated marriage) and then got involved with her son. She liked me less still because she was an itty bitty tiny woman and I wasn’t. I know this was the case and that I wasn’t just imagining things because other people had experienced the same response from her. Strange lady. But it was a short lived involvement and I didn’t have to have much to do with her. Which was a good thing.
The second time was more complicated. My first husband was from interstate and came to my town with his work commitments. He lived here for about 8 years, during which time we met, got married and then split up. From the time we started dating we travelled to see his parents at least once a year. His parents were divorced but we spent time with each of them. My ex had a complicated relationship with his father but his mother thought the sun shone out of her son’s butt and he was pretty devoted to her too. Personally, I couldn’t really take to either parent. Yes I could see positives in both of them but they drove me crazy as well. Totally and utterly crazy. His mum was very demanding and his father was so tight with money that he used the dishwashing water for at least 2 days before changing it. (And this was a man with no financial concerns). But because I only had to deal with them a few times a year (they didn’t travel to see us as they were both elderly) it was bearable.
The third instance was the worst of the three. I’ll call the guy in question Alex for the sake of this post. Alex and I were together for 5 years. A few of those years were on and off. We had a tumultuous relationship to say the least. Not least because of the influence of his family. His mother didn’t like me. The older of his two younger sisters hated me with a passion. His father was nice enough to my face but disapproved of me in general. Why? Well I was 24 and I was already divorced and had a child. And the guy I had been married to wasn’t the guy who was the father of my child. And I lived in the country and Alex was from the city which meant he spent a lot of weekends travelling to see me. Weekends he had previously spent with his family. And then to make it worse, he moved to the country to be with me. They didn’t approve of me breastfeeding my son (who was 9 months old at the time), they didn’t approve of co-sleeping with my son (which I did when Alex wasn’t around), they didn’t approve of much about me at all. I was also pagan and quite open about it and they were Christians who thought I was worshipping Satan or some such. Then I started studying social work and working in community services. I developed a social conscience and railed against social injustice. This didn’t go down at all well with Alex and his family’s privileged white middle class sensibilities. We had fight after fight about his family. He swore they were fine with me. But when we got engaged and his sister’s reaction was to say to him “What the hell did you do that for?” and his mother started to cry (in a bad way not in a happy way) he could hardly continue to deny there was an issue. In the end I evolved into the person I am today and he stayed true to his roots and we broke up for good when he met someone else. Someone less apparently less “colorful” than me. I see him around town (yes, he stayed here even after we broke up and he married the less colorful lady) and he doesn’t seem to have changed much. I am so glad we didn’t stay together.
Interestingly, my Dad didn’t like any of those three guys. He also didn’t like another guy I was crazy about during my teens and who I went out with when I was in high school. He does like the Husband (the current one that is!). Mum only ever met the high school guy and the first husband. Mum was like me, always saw the best in people, sometimes to her own detriment, so I never got the sense she disliked either of those guys. I think she would like the Husband though. I hope so anyway.
As for my current in-law status, well I get along with the Husband’s mum really well. We knew each other before I met the Husband as we work in the same area (community services). We’ve had the usual occasional disagreement over the years but I know she has my back. She knows her son isn’t perfect and she doesn’t pretend he is. She calls a spade a spade and I know she is there if we need her but she is like my Dad, generally doesn’t stick her nose in unless it is invited. I like spending time with her which is something I couldn’t say about previous partner’s mothers. I don’t have a father-in-law as the Husband’s dad died when the Husband was 19 – the same age I was when my mum died.
Do I have any wise words for those who find their in-laws less than enthused by their very existence? Unfortunately I don’t really. I think it mainly hinges on the attitude and actions of your partner and how much trouble the in-laws wants to stir up or conversely, how much you can’t stand their presence in your life. One thing to remember though is that if you have children with your partner, that as the grandparents of said children, those in-laws are more than likely going to be part of your life for a very long time. Something worth keeping in mind.
So…who is having the in-laws over for Christmas this year?