I wrote this last year for a national paper during a time when I was involved with a TV show as a relationship ‘expert’. It still holds true for me so I have taken a few bits out and put it out there again as a post.
When we enter a relationship we have this blissful connection with our partners, then there is the small print. The stuff that nobody reads. If we did, would it influence our decisions and relationships anyway? Does it really matter if your in laws make it clear to you how handy they are with a fire arm, or that your step child has made it clear, you are not welcome now and never will be? Of course it does, so in the small print of relationships, that is as immense as the apple contract we tick frantically without reading, we need to explore the influence of family and significant others on our own relationships.
Here is some food for thought on how to approach this very topic of managing ourselves around extended family and significant others.
Celebrate difference. I do harp on about this a lot but it’s only because it’s so important. Get your head around the reality that you have married somebody else, not a carbon copy of you. Acknowledge that the family you have united with is also different to your own, not a carbon copy. Make it your priority to find out who the movers and shakers are in your partners family, and not to identify your enemy and their potential soft spots, but to develop a deeper understanding of your partners family dynamic and how it operates. First impressions count and never is it so important than when we get to meet our partners family for the first time. For some there aren’t any second chances and it’s like falling flat on your face at the first hurdle, for the lucky few you can get back up and find your stride, for others, you just keep hitting those hurdles until your pulled from the race. In the early stages of a relationship, such as meeting your partner and their family at first sight, go for the top 5 family and top 3 friends. Be curious and show genuine interest when you ask, how important is x to you? What is your happiest memory of them and perhaps their saddest and just keep going, but mean it.
They are not a threat. Be confident in the relationship you have with your partner. Anybody that loves the person you feel so deeply about anywhere near as much as you do is somebody worth investing in. Your arrival does not mean the dismissal of your partners family and friends. You get what you look for, and if you go in smiling rather than swinging, they will return the favour.
Back your partner. When you know it’s right stand beside your partner to show your support, not in front or from behind but alongside, and let it be heard and seen. If you are going to navigate through the many years ahead together then it’s important to know your partner has your back. So, when your mum has a dig at your husband for being a crap cook, then point out that he may not have Michelin stars in the kitchen but he’s outstanding…. If you have an experience where you feel you were left fending for yourself whilst your partner stood silently by and it made you feel angry, sad, let down, alone then let your partner know and better still how you would like them to show their support in the future and how this would make you feel.
Do the tough times. When any issue comes up address it as soon as you can. If you don’t, frustration and resentment builds. When you think you are hiding it beautifully, you are in fact not, and eventually it will explode at the wrong time and place, like the Mall on a Saturday morning with all the kids in tow telling you how hungry they are.
Communicate your wants, needs and expectations. Now, this doesn’t mean you sit down and pen your list of rules that you then impose on those around you, or worst still your partner. You need to have an honest and open conversation around family values and expectations. It’s important to actually listen and digest the family values that each partner brings and how they are both similar and different. Afterwards your well positioned to then start exploring what your own shared family or relationship values look and sound like. There is of course also a need to work out the practical side of family life, how often are you going to visit and who and how often are family members going to visit you. Talk, but most importantly listen and accept that with relationships comes a need to compromise, and it can’t always be the same person doing the moving.
Pace yourself. I am specifically referring to families coming together with children from previous relationships. Don’t be overly eager to jest about or assign relationship tags such as step mum/dad, mum or dad. Just, take your time and depending on the age of the children have a conversation with them about how they would like to refer to you, after you have spoken to your partner of course. Be the adult here and get over your own wants and needs and take a breath to consider the feelings and experiences of the children.
Promote and nourish positivity. We all need to offload but be really mindful of how much and to whom you are having that ‘bit of a vent’ to. Share some of the good things your partner is doing and how they make you feel. Those that love you want to know your safe and cared for and will be all too eager to go into protect and defend mode if they think you aren’t, conversely, they will support and welcome those that do into their pride.