Even after we're grown and gone from the nest, families still have an amazing capacity to ruin our lives. To me, this capacity is most obvious in our relationships with outsiders, i.e., a dating relationship, an engagement, even a marriage.
There are two ways your family of origin can mess up your relationship with your sweetie. They can be direct about it, and actively try to split the two of you up, or they can just sit back and let their own dysfunctional model - the only model you really know - sow the seeds of discord and unhappiness in another generation.
The good news is that both of these tactics can be somewhat diminished with a little care and forethought on your part. But before you put any of these solutions to use, you need to ask yourself a few hard questions first. Questions like, "Why is my family actively discouraging my relationship with this person? Could my sweetie honestly not be a good match for me? Does he or she not support and care about my needs, and is my family picking up on this?" Once you've answered these questions honestly - to yourself and out loud to all parties involved - now is the time to start countering your family's influence.
The first tactic is, obviously, to be in constant, honest communication with your partner about the situation. Dealing with your family of origin is a lot like dealing with your children; you need to present a united front at all times. It's been said that "A house divided against itself cannot stand," and this is so very true when it's your house, your home, and your partner and any children the two of you may be responsible for. When my mother tried to recruit my husband Alex to be a co-parent of me (at 40), he told me - much to my mother's chagrin and denial. Alex, knowing I expected him to be a husband, a partner, and an equal, pretty much figured what would happen to our relationship if I didn't know what my mother had tried to do to it behind my back. So he told me, and consequently the issue never had a chance to drive a wedge between us.
Another way to diffuse major family bombs is to spend as little of your life as possible with your sweetie and your family in the same room. Split major holidays between your family and your partner's family - that's only fair. Consider a romantic getaway at a B&B for just the two of you rather than stressing through another horrible Christmas dinner. If it's really that bad, move. Many a grown son or daughter have moved halfway (or more) across the country to get away from their toxic family.
Set limits and rules about how and when your parents and siblings can visit, and stick to them. If your mother, your grandmother, or your aunt have a habit of just walking into your home any time they feel like it, that can put a real damper on your plans for a romantic dinner and massage! Given enough interruptions, or potential interruptions, neither of you might feel particularly romantic toward each other and that will ruin your relationship! Tell the family member(s) who are so free with your front door that they have to call first - and that you might not always be home when they want or expect you to be! If the intrusive family member doesn't have a key, start locking the door. If they do have a key, change the locks. Get caller ID, so if Mom calls right when you're sitting down to dinner, you can note it and call her back - at your convenience. You're an adult It's your home. Act like it.
Don't run crying to your family, either in person or on the phone, every time you and your sweetie have a disagreement. First of all, it's none of your family's business unless he or she hit you, especially if you have children. If it's not that extreme situation, keep them out of it. If they already don't like your partner, this will just give them ammunition. If they do like your partner, hearing all the negative things he or she did during a fight just might change their opinion!
Plus, it's common for your sweetie to feel betrayed by your running to outsiders for help, and may choose to stop sharing his or her honest feelings with you in the future, since you're probably going to blab them to your family at the first opportunity. Betrayal and lack of trust tend to ruin a relationship. Don't let this happen to yours.
Also, it's not a very mature thing to do, and may give your family the extra ammunition it needs to try to split the two of you up, if they're arguing "you're too young!" or something like that.
In my case, I have more trouble fighting the dysfunctions I was raised on than my family actively trying to break up my relationship. I fight my parents' bad example of a marriage every day I interact with my husband Alex. My mother, as I've mentioned before is a master control freak who constantly either puts down, dismisses, micro-manages or ignores my father - and anyone else who gets in her way. My father, after two major bouts of therapy with my mother to get her to stop and after an attemped move-out of the home, has given up and is now letting himself slide into dementia to escape from her (which my mother is in denial about, but that's another story).
But growing up, this is what I saw every day. This is what I thought was normal. To me, it was "okay." Well, it wasn't okay when I was thirteen, and it isn't okay now. I consciously battle every day to let Alex know I appreciate the little things he does for me, even something as small as saying, "thank you" when he brings me a glass of milk or loads the dishwasher - something I've seen and seen again that my mother doesn't do for my father, or for me, on the rare occasions we visit them. My parents' model of a toxic relationship had already destroyed one of my marriages before I even met Alex, back when I was young and unaware of the damaging effects of my mother's behavior. I'm older now, and hopefully wiser, and I work very hard to keep my mother's example from ruining another relationship.
If your parents have (or had) a bad marriage, you will need to do the same. And be aware, the influence never fully goes away no matter how old you are or how far away you live. Even a short visit, as Alex and I recently found out [see the Hub "The Best Ways to Say "I'm Sorry."], can be enough to push all of my mother's relationship-destroying behavior buttons that still live in me.
It's a hard thing to acknowledge the active or latent relationship-destroying tactics your family may be using on you and your sweetie. It's even harder to resist them. After all, this is your family I'm talking about here. The people that raised you, taught you how to ride a bike, comforted you when you were sick or had a nightmare - or maybe they didn't do any of these things, and that's part of the problem. But there comes a day in the lives of a lot of people, including me, and probably including you since you're reading this, when we have to choose between our families of origin - our parents, siblings, grandparents, and our families of choice - spouse and children. I can't tell you who or what to choose, but I will say this:
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Helen on March 25, 2011:
I recently moved back home so I could afford to attend college. My fiancée moved home to be with his disabled mother because his younger sister is studying for a year abroad. Before this we lived together (we are both in our mid-20s), but we couldn't afford a nurse for his mother, my college fees, and rent, so we had to move home. My family have made him feel totally unwelcome in my home. My dad calls him "useless" and a "bum", neither of which are true, and yesterday, my father tried to charge him for a slice of ham that he'd eaten. Bear in mind, he had eaten a ham sandwich, but he had bought the butter and bread, as we were out and I asked him to pick some up en-route.
Him having to care for a disabled mother makes it very difficult for us to spend time together, and my parents are making him feel incredibly unwelcome in my home. It's destroying our relationship. I've tried talking to my parents about having some respect, but they basically think that because it's their house they don't have to let him in never mind be nice to him. My fiancée tried really hard to be sweet and polite, but they are just unreasonable and rude. I'm beginning to think I might have to move out and take out a loan for college fees, rather than save them up in advance. Sure, it will cost me about fifteen thousand euro extra in the long run, but it's the only way I can see to save my relationship.
I wish my parents would realise that it's really only themselves they are hurting, because if they treat my fiancée with no respect then in the future they won't be invited to our wedding, or allowed to see our children.
Instead of gaining a son, they will lose a daughter.
Over it on November 13, 2010:
Hi there, after reading your article, I have to agree, choose wisely. I chose my husband over my abusive parents, and have never looked back. I used give them the benefit of the dooubt, always fell for my dads lies that "we are always here for you" rubbish but the funny thing is I used to have panic type attacks when they were in my life?? and which have now gone since I stopped talking to them! My husband also came from an abusive background, and his mother tried her abusive controling tactics on me! Well we had to let them go as well. She actually thought I would fall for it! Well I caught her in the act as I noticed she too always had to be in control of her 4 sons lives, but in a very abusive manner.
Both our parents have tried to ruin our lives, they are very dysfunctional people, with nothing better to do. My sisters have mental illnesses, his brothers are losers and drunks.
I guess Our love for each other is what has kept us on top of things, and our pure determination to NOT BE LIKE THEM! lol. I always said I will do anything to not have a relationship like my parents. And it takes hard work, as my husband can have temper tantrums, because he has a stressful career. He really does try though.
In the end, I am relieved neither of our abusive good for nothing parents are involved in our life, because when they were, I was always scard they would try and do something to hurt us (I guess that's where the panic attacks came from) and low and behold they both did (reason why we kicked them out of our life). Also I am glad we learnt this lesson young and not when we were older which would have made it harder. I always remember you cant choose your family but you can choose your friends, and who needs family when all they want to do is harm you any way they can, and you constantly have to be watching your back! Is this what god intended? No, like the TV adverts about abusive relationships says BREAK THE CYCLE! And in our case we had to rid the root of the cycle to break it. Sad but true.
I know some people may think "but they are your parents" and yes, it did take a lot of thinking on our part. But my parents lied to the police, tried to out us in jail even (all to do with there abusve thinking style) and never stopped calling us even after we said slow down, respect our privacy. My dad said you don't deserve respect! I guess that's why he'd always beat us up. Well now that we are no longer victims, I feel like superwoman!
Mitzy on July 12, 2010:
No one can slide into dementia to escape something. It either is or it isn't. Perhaps your mother is so controlling to counter act his decline? The other parent is usually the first to deal with this, same as you would with your husband. Paranoia, nastiness, and all sorts of "false" interaction,to include becoming confrontational is a part of the disorder. Look up the symptoms. Give your mom a break........perhaps her partner has NEVER really been a partner...and now he can't or won't. More than likely he can't. You may not have a grasp on what your mom is dealing with. I know I am "the mom" and my husbands difficult behavior as he ages is tearing us and our family apart. NO one would "invent" such hell, or ask for it. A "victim" complex on the sufferer, perhaps your father? is also part of the symptoms of dementia......he will spend all of his time trying to prove "nothing" is wrong with him but that he is under attack......perhaps your take on their "problems" is wrong. He may have always been borderline "abusive" and is even more so now that he has this disease.
Hannah on March 27, 2010:
My parents are HUGE control freaks, so it's no surprise that they and my sisters keep trying to break my partner (of 3 years) and I up. Since day one I have heard so much crap from them - and it never stops! No matter how much you ask them to, they don't quit. They can see I'm happy with him, but they don't care. He has never hit me, yelled at me, done drugs or smoked in his life, and he has never done anything other than treat me like a princess. But my family don't like him because he is not good looking enough for them. They just want a rich, Calven Klein model to show off to their friends.
It's not fair, is it? No-one but the two involved should decide how the relationship works. We are the ones who have to spend time (and potentially the rest of our lives) with our partner. We are the ones who have to talk to them, and come home to them at the end of the day - not our parents.
Just let me live my life how I want to! They have to remember that they were once my age and they got to live their life how they wanted, so why can't I?
Sweetness on September 04, 2009:
Im glad to find this, cuz Im having issues with my bf family. Mostly his cousins try to tell him im no good and that he should find other girls on the side. But Im glad that He is different from them. It just not only that, I cant call him in cell cuz they hand up on me and hardly tell him that I call. We have issues about that and many things because of them. His cousins are type of guys that like to mess with girls or flirt with them. He notice that too, he believes that they don't like the idea of a relationship and doesn't like seeing us together.
Mostly is that and try to take his money. Which in the end they almost leave him with nothing. Where we cant go out cuz of his cousins and aunt as well. Its a huge struggle but we are finding a way to get an apartment far from them. This can help us out so much. Thank you for this article. Keep it up.
bOrN2pwn on February 02, 2009:
I have this problem with my viances grandmother since she raised her and all.
But this old hag will just not give up. She is trying every possible way to break us up. She keeps telling me that im not good enough i will never be able to take care of her. She is used to the best and ill never be able to provide her with only the best.
This is really getting on my nerves i wish she would die i know that's wrong. But the funny part is her own children dosnt even want her close to them. That says a lot. Im running outa ideas what to do
I really love her but I get this feeling that her grandmother is interfeering to much. And like all humans you can only handle so much before you explode and realse all that wrath that's inside. Me and my lover talk about this all the time. Frankly nothing works.
Any 1 got any help on this it would be appricited
Mail me @
Thanx in advance
Bianca on June 13, 2008:
This has just bought me to tears. My partners family have been trying to break us up since day 1, now 3 and a half years later they are still doing it. A year and a half ago we bought our own house and moved away hoping that they would accept me but they still haven't. They have recently started getting worse and going to my house during the day when I am not home to brain wash my partner. He has now become very distant from me and in the heat of the moment a few times he has told me to drop dead. i don't know what to do anymore. I was he wasn't so stubborn that he would actually read this and understand that it isn't me, its them.
Tonya on April 15, 2008:
I sooooo appreciate this - I am really going through it with my parents of origin - I actually think we may be related by what you say (lol) My mother is a control freak and my father, brother and cousin are right by her side and pretty much left me no choice but to move away - AGAIN - I moved once as a single mother - mind you, intellegent, college educated and making the combined income of my parents - and they followed me 6 months later - I thought it was ok until I got engaged - my father wanted my daughter and thought he was the father and my mother wanted to control me. It's hard because they are your "parents" but my therapist told me to remove the titles - they are my parents but not the ones we envision to have - just the ones we have. I love them but we are moving again!!!! Thanks - I needed this...
alan on January 08, 2008:
Hay there wall i feel the same way my gf never ched on me but her girl is all ways there and get in beween us when my gf is not with her we get on very wall now that she is back we aare not even talking i love her so much but we bouth say and do mean things to each outher it was that bad that we split up for 6 weeks then got back we bouth where talking about how we feel about each outher then it was back again i feel let down as jen said that she would never have anything more to do with her as she punch me in the face and pulled a kniff on me what do i do walk away or try to get jen back
sassy on January 05, 2008:
i had cheated on my boyfriend. i told him about and we tried to work things out. his brother overheard our conversation and since then he tried really hard to break us up. one day, my boo and his brother came to my house and his brother was so disrespectful. his brother was giving out my boo's number to other females behind our backs. his brother tried so hard to find more dirt on me. i believe that he told my boo that i was cheating again. funny thing is, he only saw me talking to a guy that i had worked with. well, the brother succeed now. we just broke up. my ex says that he still loves and want to be with me. i don't know what to do anymore. i still in love with him but we had tooooooooooo many outside interference.
Veronica from NY on August 16, 2007:
My husband is coming from where you come from, Rhom. But I think it's great that he (and you!) know that your families are dysfunctional, and wrong. Being aware of it is the only way to over come it.