One of the inevitable questions that comes up when I work with engaged couples concerns how—or even IF—they should move forward when significant family members of one or both partners aren’t supportive of the marriage.
This sounds relatively benign and may simply indicate that they have general concerns about the timing or location of the nuptials.
But in other cases, when they express concerns about the person their loved one has chosen to spend a lifetime with, things can get U-G-L-Y. Let’s be real. Sometimes, they hate your fiancé’s guts!! THEN what??
When I probe this question in response, it’s usually followed by a string of qualifying statements from the partner whose family we’re talking about, such as:
>> “They’re just so different.”
>> “They just don’t have much in common.”
>> “They just didn’t get off on the right foot.”
>> “My mom is just very protective of me.”
>> “We just haven’t spent enough time with them for them to feel comfortable yet.”
Did you catch the common word in all of these phrases?
“Just” is what I call padder—a filler word that’s meant to cushion the truth and impact of the rest of the words that get put with it. You might as well “just” say:
>> “My fiancé and my family are extremely different and it could be a problem.”
>> “They have nothing in common and it worries me.”
>> “My family got a bad first impression of my fiancé and they’re not likely to change it.”
>> “My mom will make life hell for anyone I marry, no matter who it is.”
>> “We could spend 3 months, 24/7, with my family and they will never get on board.”
Whatever the reality in this scenario, one can’t always sufficiently impress relatives, who may then withhold support (at best) or become extremely resistant to the marriage (at worst).
What then? What kind of mitigating strategies exist and just how much weight should you give the comments and concerns of otherwise sane friends and family members who genuinely have your best interests at heart?
Let’s take a look.
First, try to assess their concerns objectively.
You may find that they have some legitimate fears about you or your fiancé that you should heed and address proactively. Try to listen—without interrupting—and take their comments on board without reacting or promising anything. If you must reply, simply say, “I appreciate your telling me how you feel and will give this some serious thought.” Then do so.
Second, put yourself in their shoes.
Are they worried they are somehow “losing” you? Would they like more time together with you as a couple? Would they like you to consider postponing the wedding until certain things happen or are put into place? Again, evaluate their comments and think about whether or not they’re reasonable and made with good intent.
Third, don’t give in to the temptation to tell your fiancé everything.
Have no doubt that all the negative comments made by your family and conveyed to your fiancee’ will be remembered for a lifetime and cause a wedge between your family and your new spouse. You shouldn’t hide important issues and conversations you have with your family but there’s an UNproductive way to share these and a productive way to share these with your fiancé. For example:
UNPRODUCTIVE: “My mom thinks you dress like a ho.”
PRODUCTIVE: “My mom is more conservative than you are and has different ideas about what women should wear. Call her old-fashioned but she might say something if you wear certain things when she’s around.”
Want some more ideas? Check out this article on
What to Do if Your Family Doesn’t Like Your Partner
If your fiancé’ is a good egg, there’s a good chance that she’ll simply make some wardrobe adjustments during family visits so this becomes a non-issue. Or you may decide that it’s the right thing for her to dress as she chooses if you’re willing to run interference with your mother. Depending on the relationship between them, you may also encourage them to have a chat about it themselves. It’s up to you and you have an almost unlimited number of options but, in most cases, it’s best to address the issue in some way rather than to cross your fingers and hope it magically disappears.
Fourth, strike the right balance between quality time alone with your family and time together as a family which includes your fiancé.
When your betrothed becomes your spouse, this balance will shift toward togetherness all the time, but it may go a long way for your family to see that your fiancé doesn’t need to be the center of every event and conversation while you are still engaged.
Fifth, encourage positive bonding time between your family and your fiancé.
The vast majority of misconceptions and misunderstandings occur when these two parties simply don’t know and understand one another. Creating brief interactions around shared interests—meals included—can help lighten the mood and build relationships incrementally over time.
As you think intentionally about these exchanges, be clear with both your family and your fiancé about what you’d like to see and give them some direction. Highlighting any shared interests or activities will help. For example,
TO YOUR FIANCEE’: “Tonight at dinner, you should ask dad about his golf game. He’s really gotten into it and would enjoy bragging on himself a little.”
TO YOUR FAMILY: “Tonight at dinner, I think ____ would enjoy hearing a little about what I was like as a kid and seeing some old pictures. Can we look at those together?”
If a few deliberate-but-casual efforts to bring your fiancé and your family together don’t work, you’ll need to decide where your priorities and loyalties lie. It’s a common saying that you “marry your spouse’s family”, but it’s not true. You marry your partner and no one else. You “leave and cleave” to your mate and your attitude should be that – if your family honors this choice, they can come along for the ride.
If they don’t, you’ll need to choose the person you committed to at the alter and said (something to the effect of), “Forsaking all others, I’ll be faithful only to you for as long as we both shall live.” This applies not only to sexual fidelity, but to all the choices you’ll need to make between your family and your spouse when they are presented.
Until and unless you can meet this challenge with clarity and certainty, you’ll want to keep working to shore up the gap between your family and your fiancé so you don’t have to cross this bridge very often (if at all) after saying “I do“. Best wishes (and, as always, let us know if we can help!)