Feel like you are in a tug-of-war for your lover's heart?
One of the biggest challenges couples face is the over-involvement of family members in the committed relationship. The trouble comes when a relationship with family members is unhealthy and creates discord between lovers. Many couples come into therapy wanting to work on the relationship between them but neglect to invite one key participant, this third person. For readability I will use the term "parent" although this post can apply to parents, children, friends, or anyone. In some relationships parents have become much like an emotional affair partner (I know scary right?). They receive more than their share of time, energy, and sometimes even finances. This becomes a problem in relationships when the other partner feels left out. If parent and partner are at odds, many committed relationships will struggle to survive. As you struggle with the relationship between your partner and their parent here are some key points to consider.
This Is Not A Competition…If You Do Not Compete
Contrary to what it may feel like, you are not in direct competition with your partner's parent. Competition suggests willful opposition; yet you didn't sign up for this match. As well-meaning as they are some parents feel threatened by their child's love interest. This is their issue, not yours. Take the moral high-ground and avoid competing. If your partner values the relationship they will be open to hearing your concerns and making appropriate adjustments. This is easier when you are not creating more strife by being at odds with their parent. If you engage with the parent in competition you will lose footing and potentially your partner's ear. Rise above it.
Parents Are Teachers
Many over-involved parents have difficulty with their own romantic relationships, leaving them time and energy to put into yours. What you may feel is inappropriate or destructive may be normal for that parent and perhaps even your partner. Take a step back and assess the situation. Does this family have a history of healthy loving relationships? If the answer is no, be prepared to begin the hard work of defining the boundaries of your relationship. People can change if they are willing and internally motivated to do so, they will not change simply because you want them to. Working with your partner to create a healthy relationship will bond the two of you together and perhaps salvage the relationship with their parent.
The Ultimatum- Them or Me
Many partners feel they are left with no choice but to issue the ultimatum; your parent or me. This is a risky move. Your partner could be so intertwined with their parent that they are willing to lose you. This could be a very painful realization for you. You could find that you are the choice, but now resentment takes up the space the parent once occupied. The probability that you experience the outcome you are looking for is slim. This option requires a cost/benefit analysis are you willing to gamble the relationship to win this fight?
At any rate, there is no easy answer to this problem. Talk to your partner calmly, out of love and respect for them and the relationships. Ask for what you need and want without letting anger rule the conversation. Believe that your partner has your best interests at heart and hear them out too. If all else fails enlist a trusted friend, advisor, or qualified relationship counselor that can be objective and is not afraid to call you out on your blind spots. A great relationship is possible, if you are willing to put in the work.