Help! My Family Doesn’t Approve of My Relationship

Dear GoodTherapy.org,

I’ve been seeing this wonderful girl for over three years now, and my parents still have not warmed up to her. She and I are a perfect fit, very compatible, but not too similar. We introduce one another to new experiences, resolve our differences pretty well, and have fun together. It seems like the only piece missing is the fact my parents—whole family, really—don’t approve. They’re nice enough when we’re all together and have never been cruel to her outright, but my sister has made comments on the side about how I “could do better,” and my dad says vaguely insulting things like, “I always pictured you with someone … different.” I’ve also heard them mock her voice and make some jokes at her expense.

I’ve never asked what, exactly, they find fault with, but if I had to register a guess it would be that my girlfriend didn’t go to college and has a nontraditional job. She’s not a deadbeat, by any means, and she’s still one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. She just doesn’t fit their view of what a well-educated person on a definite career track looks like. Otherwise, she blends very well with my family in terms of humor, ideology, political beliefs—pretty much any category that actually matters.

I really, really want to marry this woman, and could see myself popping the question in the next six months to a year, except that I desperately want my family on my side when I do. We’re a relatively small, tight-knit group, and it’s important to me that they at least see my love for her and understand she’s here to stay. Does this require a family meeting-type scenario to iron out our differences? Or should I just forge ahead and hope they jump on board and become supportive soon? —Meet the Mockers

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Dear Mockers,

This is quite the dilemma. It sounds like you have found a partner with whom you’d like to build a life. While this is a beautiful thing, it is complicated by your family’s less-than-enthusiastic embrace of her. I imagine this leaves you feeling pulled between the people you love most.

I’m curious about how you have handled the times when your sister declares that you can do better or your dad says he imagined you with someone else. Do you push back against this and let them know this is a woman you love deeply and with whom you can imagine spending your life? If you have not, I wonder if talking to them about how serious you are about this woman and how unacceptable you find their remarks to be would sufficiently address the issue. Perhaps if they knew she was here to stay and you wouldn’t accept them being unkind to her, they would realize they needed to get on board, as you say.

I’m curious about how you have handled the times when your sister declares that you can do better or your dad says he imagined you with someone else. Do you push back against this and let them know this is a woman you love deeply and with whom you can imagine spending your life?

I find myself wondering if your girlfriend is aware of your family’s lukewarm feelings toward her. If she is aware, how does she feel about it? Does this cause any conflict between the two of you in your relationship? If she is aware of their feelings, perhaps a “family meeting-type scenario,” including her, as you suggest could be helpful for everyone involved. You may even want to enlist the help of a family therapist to help everyone talk through the conflict.

I’m also curious about the dynamics in your family. Is your sister in a serious relationship? Are you the first to try to bring someone new into the family? For some families, this can feel threatening in a sense. They might even see her introduction to the scene as a threat to your place in their lives.

Hopefully, through some conversations with your family, possibly including your girlfriend and/or a family therapist, everyone can come together. If not, you might need to decide how to proceed with your relationship with your girlfriend without your family’s support. These situations can be very painful, and you might find it helpful to partner with a therapist to help you process your feelings and determine the best course of action.

Kindly,

Sarah

Sarah Noel
Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC is a licensed psychotherapist living and working in Brooklyn, New York. She specializes in working with people who are struggling through depression, anxiety, trauma, and major life transitions. She approaches her work from a person-centered perspective, always acknowledging the people she works with as experts on themselves. She is honored and humbled on a daily basis to be able to partner with people at such critical points in their unique journeys.
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  • Laura

    Laura

    November 11th, 2016 at 11:40 AM

    This is a real bummer for sure. I think that you need to confront your family because this is never going to resolve on its own. Especially if you are wanting to ask this lady to marry you! You can’t let her go into a ,marriage with you with your family having such backhanded feelings about her. That is not fair to either of you. Marriage can be hard enough when you have a whole team of support with you. Imagine how hard it is when you don’t have that and even worse you have people who are rooting against your success as a couple.

  • robert

    robert

    November 14th, 2016 at 10:28 AM

    Well in the whole scheme of things you are the only one who has to be happy about the relationship, not them.

  • Mindy

    Mindy

    November 15th, 2016 at 2:37 PM

    Could it be that they are only looking out for you or that they see something there that you don’t see because of how much you care? I mean, these are people who have known you for all your life and they are probably just wanting to make sure that you are safe and taken care of. I would not instantly not hear what they have to say just because it throws a wrench into your relationship.

  • nahoney

    nahoney

    November 16th, 2016 at 10:16 AM

    I am pretty torn about this because there is a part of me that believes that this is your life and you shouldn’t have to care what they think about who you are with.

    But at the same time I know how close my own family and I are so it would be very hurtful to me of I knew that my family did not approve of the person that I was dating.

    All I can say is that in the end you have to do what will make you happy, not them.

  • David

    David

    November 17th, 2016 at 5:52 PM

    Open communication is always the best policy. Find out what it is they dont like about her. Find out if it is something that you truly should be concerned about that you possibly don’t see or is it shallow stuff like her job, status, looks. Let them know how hurt you have been by some of the things they have said about her.
    Also just imagine how your lady would feel if she found out they said those things and you did nothing to defend her. It wouldnt be a good situation. She would believe you condone their behavior and surely would have second thoughts on answering your big question.

  • Angel

    Angel

    November 21st, 2016 at 3:11 PM

    Give it all some time. If you do then maybe they will come to see all of the good qualities that you see.

  • Raven J

    Raven J

    November 26th, 2016 at 10:59 AM

    Eh, my husband’s family has never approved of me but we have been together for ten years now so it really hasn’t fazed me all that much

  • ginger

    ginger

    November 27th, 2016 at 1:27 PM

    I grew up in a close knit family and always with the understanding that we would never date or bring someone home that our parents or other siblings wouldn’t approve of.

    I guess there have been times when this was a challenge for all of us, but our family dynamic continues to be a strong one because I think that all of us have looked for life partners who would not only make us happy as individuals but who could also exist peacefully within the family as a whole.

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