If there’s one part of a relationship that’s out of your hands, it’s your in-laws. You might be dating the greatest dude in the world (and I happen to be), but if you don’t get along with his family, you’re in for trouble. My first impression of my partner’s parents wasn’t the greatest, but I decided that wouldn’t be the last. Here’s how I turned it around for good.
Meeting the parents is always a bit nerve-wracking.
We’ve all been there. You’re dating some hottie, things start getting serious and suddenly the words ‘parents’ rears it head. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, meeting someone’s family, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that everyone’s saying each other up. I’m generally pretty good at brushing off the opinions of others if they don’t serve me, but even I get nervous at the thought of good old mom and dad silently judging me across the dinner table.
His mom doesn’t mince words.
I like people who speak their mind, and I try to be as honest as possible with the people in my life. Sometimes though, I come across someone who really doesn’t hold back. This is my boyfriend’s mom. She’s a very strong and opinionated woman and she won’t hesitate to tell you just what she thinks about you. Talk about intimidating…
His dad doesn’t use words at all.
In contrast to his mom, my boyfriend’s dad is a silent presence, pottering around in the background of most scenes at their house. I found it almost impossible to hold a conversation with him. I’d attempt to establish some kind of chit-chat, but he doesn’t make it easy for me. If he replied at all it was either with reluctance or it was about another topic altogether.
Despite that, they are lovely people.
Those are the traits I struggled most with but, really, they’re lovely people. His mom is, despite her occasional tactlessness, very sweet and incredibly nurturing. She’s a mother through and through. His dad, while I struggle to talk with him, as always been kind to me and is generous beyond belief sometimes. I couldn’t right them off and didn’t want to.
Then I ended up living with them.
My boyfriend and I bought a place together and between moving out of our apartment and into our new home, we had a significant gap in accommodation. His parents very generously invited us to stay with them in the interim, which is how I ended up living with them for three months over the winter. When you’re trapped in a house for that long with three other people, you’d better get to like them, and fast.
I made the decision to change things.
I knew how important it was to establish proper connections with these people that I barely knew and still found quite intimidating. It all started by making the decision to work on those relationships. I wanted the winter to pass by smoothly, not end in tears.
I started by seeing them as people, not parents.
Living in their house, eating their food, using their amenities – it was like being 16 again and not in a good way. I found that because that had a parent/child dynamic with my partner, that dynamic ended up carrying over to me. I consider myself a very independent person and I don’t even have that dynamic with my own parents, so this was an uncomfortable shock to me. I decided if I was going to change things, it would start by me seeing them as regular people, not as parents.
I got to know them individually.
This was probably the thing that made the biggest impact. I started spending time with his mom, keeping her company as she cooked, asking her questions, helping her out with little tasks like cooking or cleaning. I took a genuine interest in her life and found that we had a lot to talk about. His dad was a harder nut to crack but I eventually realized, with my boyfriend’s help, that his preferred method of communication is through action. So we decided to take on a project together – building a shelf – and in this way we got to bond on his level.
Speaking openly about my feelings moved things along.
There were, of course, bumps along the way, and would sometimes find something his mom said a little too insensitive, or his dad a little too distant. Instead of retreating into resentment or simply throwing in the towel, I plucked up the courage to tell them how I felt. They always responded with kindness and understanding. Who knew talking about feelings would actually work!
Things got deep.
By the end of our stay there, the four of us had formed a little book club, working through a book on – of all things – communication. We met every couple of days and talked about whichever new communication tool we’d just read about. Some deep family stuff ended up coming out and I felt humbled by this family’s trust in me. I got to understand each of them on a vulnerable level – even his dad opened up.
The dynamic totally changed for everyone.
By the end of that three months, my relationship with his parents totally changed. They weren’t just ‘my boyfriend’s parents’, they were people I cared about and had individual relationships with. That time could have been totally disastrous had I chosen to keep them at arm’s length. I’m so glad I chose the other path!
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