Ask Gynomite!

March 29, 2012 at 2:37 pm (ask gynomite)

In her former life, Emily “Gynomite” Gordon was a couples and family therapist licensed in 2 1/2 states.  In this life, she’s a freelance fighter of your emotional woes with Ask Gynomite.  Write her at all emails stay confidential.  Today, Gynomite takes on hating your girl/boyfriend’s parents.

I really don’t like my gf’s father and step mother. They are ignorant, sluggish and communicate with me like I am 12. How on earth should I deal with people like this?

What they say is true: you can pick your girlfriend, but you can’t pick your girlfriend’s family. Hating one’s mother-in-law is a tale as old as time, but what it comes down to is that they are people you didn’t choose to interact with that you have to be cordial with.

 Because that’s the really short answer: you have to be cordial with them.

 Let me back up just a moment though, because there’s a bit of information I wish I knew about you to tailor this answer.

How old are you? There is a massive difference between being 19 and disliking your 19 year old girlfriend’s parents, who probably don’t take you very seriously, and being 34 and being treated like a child by the parents of the woman you intend to spend the rest of your life with. If you are young, your job is merely to shut off your personal distaste, smile curtly, and speak politely with them, because you probably wouldn’t like anyone else’s parents. I certainly didn’t at that age. (I still kinda don’t) However, if you’re older and you feel you are genuinely not being treated with the respect that an adult shows another adult, it may be time to do something… which leads me to the other piece of information I wish I knew:

How does she feel about her parents? Does she agree that they are belittling, ignorant folk, or does she think that they’re fine and just being parents? Because the two of you should probably be on the same page about what you can and cannot endure from each others’ parents. Broach the topic VERY carefully (people are protective of their own parents, even if they are annoyed by them) and bring up specific instances of interactions with her parents that have made you feel hurt or insulted. Always always, when bringing up things like this, make it about how other people’s actions have affected you, not about how other people are wrong. Focus it on yourself.

If your girlfriend agrees with you, and you two decide to take this on as a team, then you’ll have the tough task of sitting down with her parents in a neutral space and time and setting up parameters for how you want to be treated. Again, make it more about how their behavior affects you, and it’s not enough to just say what you don’t want to happen anymore- you also need to describe how you wish to be treated.

The big thing to remember in any situation when you’re confronting another human being about how they treat you is that you don’t actually have any control over how they treat you. What you can control is your own actions… and that’s it. So if they don’t treat you the way you have asked to be treated, you have to do what you can, which is remove yourself from the situation. This is where having your girlfriend on the same page as you is imperative, because otherwise you are asking her to choose between you and her parents, and that’s a horrible position to be in.

Please think long and hard about what battles you want to pick when it comes to the parents of girlfriends, because it can get messy fast. And always remember that no matter what, those two people created the person you love, and you have to at least respect them for that.

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