What to Do If You Hate Your Partner's Family
In Hump Day, award-winning psychotherapist and TV host Dr. Jenn Mann answers your sex and relationship questions — unjudged and unfiltered.
DEAR DR. JENN,
My boyfriend and I have been together for a few years and usually, my time spent with his family (who I dislike) is limited because we live a few states away. But over the holidays, I'm forced to spend days on end with them, trapped in their house. I find them obnoxious, rude, and their discussions about politics are hard to bare. Help! I need some survival tips! — Holiday Nightmare
DEAR HOLIDAY NIGHTMARE,
I feel you. I once had a boyfriend whose family thought it was hysterical to give each other gifts in designer boxes, like Gucci, and then write “NOT” on the top. They got a kick out of putting a pack of gum or a tube of toothpaste in the gift box. It got old, fast.
We have all had a romantic partner whose family ranged from annoying to full-on offensive. The key to getting through the holidays is setting limits and having healthy boundaries. Here, a few things you can do to make your time with his family less painful.
1. Limit time spent with them.
If you can help it, limit the number of days you're spending or the number of family parties you RSVP to. Ask your boyfriend to pick the most important ones. Also, set a time limit. Find a reasonable exit time when you can head out solo or with your partner. There is nothing wrong with letting them know you are tired and need to head home.
2. Put down the alcohol.
You may be tempted to numb yourself with some alcohol to get through the pain but don’t do it! Even if everyone in his family is drinking, keep yourself sober so you don’t end up losing it and going off on them.
3. Be a united front.
Talk with your partner in advance and make a plan to stay united. If there is a particularly sensitive topic they tend to talk about that upsets you, let your partner jump in and change the subject. You may not be able to control how his parents act, but the fact that your partner is super supportive of you and your views is the most important thing.
4. Get out of the house as much as possible.
Go ice skating, hit the gym, offer to go to the grocery store to pick up the forgotten dinner items, etc. Finding excuses to get out of the house will help break things up. Even if they join in an activity, a change of scenery often helps people to behave better than they might on their home turf.
5. Bring a gift.
My grandmother always told me to never show up to someone’s house empty-handed. Bring a fun gift that can be a conversation piece or something thoughtful that you know they would really appreciate. This gets you off on the right foot with them for the visit.
6. Bone up on the family culture.
Take some time to learn about the family culture if it is different than yours. I always think of the scene in The Joy Luck Club where Waverly takes her American boyfriend, Rich, home to meet her mother who cooks a dish she is proud of. Rich destroys the relationship by pouring soy sauce all over it. Bottom line: Get the cultural 411 before you make a mistake like that.
7. Kill them with kindness.
Even if you feel they don't deserve it, take the high road and bring out your best manners. Make sure to say please and thank you. Be kind and sensitive. It’s hard to hate someone who is just that nice.
8. Don't stay with them.
Extended time tends to be the thing that puts people over the edge around the holidays. Stay with a friend, rent an Airbnb, or get a hotel room if you can afford it. Do your best to avoid being stuck on their turf overnight. Just having a safe space to go back to to air your grievances and re-charge is very helpful.