When Parents don’t approve of their Children’s Significant Others
We all like others, particularly our loved ones, to approve of our choices of intimate partners, because these are a reflection on who we are. At the other end, parents often have ideas of who their children should choose as life partners. When children’s choices and parents’ expectations do not match, conflicts often arise.
What are the reasons behind these disagreements?
Of course they are many, but the main one that is at the root of them has to do with the nature of love. “Love is blind”, as the say goes. When we are in love, our perception of our loved one is distorted: we see only what we want to see, and we may ignore huge red flags because we don’t want to acknowledge and deal with them. Also, at the beginning of a relationship both people are on their best behaviors, so it is almost impossible to see each other’s shortcomings. We become intolerant of any criticism leveled against our loved one. Other people, family members included, may be more objective. Having said this, however, it is important to keep in mind that at times family members have distorted views of their adult children’s mates as well, albeit for different reasons. Their fear of being displaced by this new person may color their view of him or her. Or they may think this person is not good enough for their son or daughter. Perhaps they had an idea about a partner for their adult child based on age, education, gender, socio-economic, ethnic or religious backgrounds. This can bias their assessment, if this new person does not fit their “profile.” When a new member is added to an already established group, it changes the group’s dynamics. All the jokes about mothers-in-law – that they are intrusive, controlling, demanding, critical and difficult to please – reflect the push and pull of family dynamics, altered by the addition of a new person.
How does this conflict affect an adult child’s relationship with his or her significant other?
Conflict can affect the relationship between adult children and their life partners in either direction, by making them closer to one another, or by creating a wedge in their relationship. Which direction this takes depends on different circumstances and the quality of the relationships involved.
Disapproval of one’s choice of life partner can draw the two lovers closer to one another. Love gets stronger in adversities, as the Romeo and Juliet story reminds us. When this happens, a rift develops between parents and older children, because this situation is oppositional and people in it take sides.
At other times, the adult child may crush under the pressure of parental disapproval and questions his or her decisions, weakening the bond with the significant other. In these situations, it is just a matter of time before the relationship breaks us.
The direction this situation will take also depends on how family members express their disapproval: overtly, passive-aggressively, tactfully, challenging, blackmailing, and so forth and the communication style parents and adult children had prior to this situation.
Are experiencing this situation in your own family, or do you know of somebody who does? What are you doing or have you done that is useful in healing the rift and bringing harmony back in the family? Please join this discussion and share your thoughts.