You can choose your friends, but not your family – we’re all familiar with the old jokes and stereotypes about the in-laws. When we fall in love with someone, their family comes as part of the package. For many couples, this isn’t a problem, at least not at the beginning of the relationship, but when children come along difficulties with partners’ families often crop up.
Difficult decisions have to be made about parenting and it’s not uncommon for competition between ‘my family’ and ‘your family’ to arise. Each partner often wants to raise their children, in the same way, they were brought up and sometimes overbearing in-laws will try to impose their own ideas about how to bring up the kids.
It’s important to remember that grandparents can be a support to you and your children. Research shows that most children view their grandparents as fun companions, and many children say they confide in their grandparents when they are worried. Each week a quarter of families in the UK use a grandparent to provide childcare.
If you feel that your partner’s parents interfere it is worth remembering that this is just a way of showing they care. Often it helps to try to focus on what you do like about them rather than the things or ideas you find difficult.
If this doesn’t help it’s important that you and your partner show a united front. It can be difficult to stand up to a parent but if you and your partner can agree and be supportive of each other you’re more likely to find a way of overcoming strained relationships. For some people getting on with the in-laws will never come easily, but for most couples, it’s something that gets easier with time and as you get to know each other better.
Different families will have different issues – some families expect to spend a lot of time with each other whilst others will only see each other on special occasions. Often the fact that families no longer all live within the same community can cause difficulties – we feel we don’t see enough of one another to form close bonds.
But having children often means families expect to see more of each other, and being part of a supportive extended family can be rewarding. Experiencing serious illness or bereavement within the family can bring about additional difficulties, but coping with grief can bring families closer – it’s well worth the effort to try and make it work.
Most couples will have various sets of friends from different areas of their lives – workmates, people we went to school with, friends made through having children the same age.
In most cases, our partners will get along with some and not with others and a balance will be struck. But this doesn’t mean problems don’t arise.
If one of you really dislikes the other’s friends it can cause friction; you may even find yourself rethinking your whole relationship with your partner. You may find yourself worrying that if these are the people they have shared values and interests with then they aren’t going to go away – they are going to be part of your life as a couple forever.
You may find yourself thinking that if your partner needs to spend time with people who you dislike that in fact, they are not really the person you thought they were. But remember your partner doesn’t need to enjoy the company of all of your friends; just like they don’t need to be into all the same things as you are.
In any relationship, it’s normal and healthy to want to pursue your own individual interests and spend time with people other than our partner. Often in the first phase of a relationship, we ignore this fact and spend more time alone as a couple than we do with friends, so we might not get to know our partner’s friends until later on in the relationship.
In time you should be able to balance being a person with your own friends and interests with being a partner. If your partner doesn’t like your friends, you shouldn’t necessarily have to give these friends up. You just need to figure out why your partner isn’t too keen on them, and then agree on a compromise.
You might feel particularly threatened by your partners’ friendships with their ‘still single’ friends – sometimes these might be ex-boyfriends or girlfriends or be good friends with your partners’ previous girlfriends or boyfriends. It can sometimes feel as if your partner would rather have their ‘old life’ back from before.
It starts to feel like a competition between their ‘new couple life’ with us and the old single life they had with them.
It can be difficult when a friendship is built on things you don’t share as a couple – such as a sport, a hobby, working together or a past. But you have to accept that this is part of what makes your partner who they are – they can’t just abandon friends to be with you.
Being able to communicate honestly with your partner and telling them why you find some friends harder to get on with than others, or why you feel threatened, might be difficult at first but it’s all a natural part of getting to know each other.