Letitia Kiu’s parents never liked any of the guys she dated, and her boyfriend, Stefan, was no exception. As far as her parents were concerned, the fact that Stefan was not of Chinese descent made matters worse.
“They cited cultural differences and used whatever information I gave them and turned it around as a negative,” said Kiu, a Toronto-based fashion YouTuber. “For example, I said he wanted to be a mechanic, and they said our career paths were too different to be compatible.”
Her parents’ blatant disapproval of Stefan, whom she began dating in high school in 2007, made Kiu “angry and resentful.” For several years, she would lie and say she was hanging out with friends when she was actually spending time with Stefan.
“I fought with them a lot and asked them why, but realized pretty quickly it was fruitless,” Kiu said.
Once Kiu moved out of her parents’ house in 2015, the situation gradually began to improve. Eventually, Kiu’s mom started encouraging her to bring Stefan to family gatherings.
“I slowly reintroduced him to the family, and now everyone gets along very well,” she said. “I had gone through lots of therapy to get to the resolution that they would never accept him, so this was a big shock to me.”
Even though Kiu’s family members have come around, their yearslong rejection has had a lasting impact.
“To this day, I have deep insecurities about whether my relationship is good and whether I’ve made the right choice or not,” Kiu said. “I tend to catastrophize little problems and have the mentality of having a doomed relationship. I doubt my judgment constantly.”
Dealing with parents who clearly disapprove of your relationship, particularly when it’s for less-than-fair reasons, can be distressing for both partners. We asked Kiu and a few relationship experts to share their advice on how to handle this fraught situation.
Sometimes, disapproving parents are genuinely looking out for your happiness and well-being
It’s important to acknowledge that there are some situations in which parents may have a very legitimate reason for disliking their child’s partner.
“It would boil down to actions and behaviors that impact the rights, well-being or livelihood of the parent’s child or of others,” said psychotherapist Kathleen Dahlen deVos. “That includes physical, verbal, emotional or financial abuse, reckless or dangerous actions or choices, lying and manipulation or association with hate groups.”
One sign your parents may not be off-base with their character assessment: Other family members and friends have raised similar concerns about your partner. “If the majority of your circle is raising red flags to you about your partner, then it’s worth listening and evaluating,” Kiu said.
Know that your dating history, including any previous toxic relationships, will likely affect how cautious your parents will be about your future partners.
“If you have previously been in relationships that were damaging – like violence, financial loss, lots of fighting, bad breakup — your parents will also have cause to worry,” psychotherapist Tina Tessina, author of Dr. Romance’s Guide to Finding Love Today, wrote in an email to HuffPost.
Often, though, the reasons parents disapprove are less justifiable
Many times, parents’ reasons for disliking their kid’s partner don’t have anything to do with how happy their child is in the relationship. They may disapprove their partner because they’re not who they pictured their child would end up with, whether that’s tied to personality, physical appearance, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, disability, race, cultural or religious background, career or other life choices.
Maybe the parents thought their kid would eventually marry an Ivy League-educated Wall Street type, and their partner is actually a musician who didn’t go to a four-year college.
“Most parents have at least an unconscious opinion or hope for who their child will partner with, and the choice of a significant other that strays from this vision can stir up grief, anger, denial, avoidance of the partner or the child and aversion,” deVos said.
“To this day, I have deep insecurities about whether my relationship is good, and whether I’ve made the right choice or not.”
Parents can get so attached to this imagined ideal that it becomes difficult for them to give a wonderful person a real chance.
Other times, parents may disapprove out of jealousy, Tessina said. Perhaps they feel this person is “stealing” their child or consider their partner to be a threat to the bond they have with each other.
And if your parents have experienced turmoil in their own love lives, they “may be projecting their own relationship failures on you,” she said.
Tips for dealing with disapproving parents
Plan some low-key get-togethers where your parents and partner can interact.
A casual gathering will hopefully give your parents a chance to get to know your significant other better. Tessina suggests inviting your parents over for dinner. Brief your S.O. beforehand on some of your parents’ interests or other topics they can connect on, as well as any subjects they should avoid.
“Don’t expect your S.O. to automatically know how to get along, and don’t expect that your parents will immediately like your S.O. because you love your partner,” Tessina said. “And don’t complain to your parents about your S.O. if you want them to like your partner.”
Consider your parents’ perspective.
“Instead of feeling defensive, take a minute to look at your S.O. from their point of view, and think what you and your S.O. can do to reassure your parents that everything is OK,” Tessina said.
But remember: What your parents think about your S.O. is really a moot point.
You’re an adult, so you don’t need to know Mom and Dad’s opinions about your partner as long as their negative feelings aren’t coming from a place of genuine concern for your safety or happiness.
“It’s not necessarily your business what they think, in the same way that, for parents, it’s not necessarily their business to tell you what they think, especially if you didn’t ask,” deVos said. “Parents are entitled to their own opinions of your partner, and in the event that these opinions are not all kind, we hope that they are gracious and respectful enough to keep these opinions private.”
“Parents are entitled to their own opinions of your partner, and, in the event that these opinions are not all kind, we hope that they are gracious and respectful enough to keep these opinions private.”
However, if you value your parents’ opinions and want to get their thoughts on the person you’re dating, “be prepared that the answers you hear might be challenging,” deVos said.
If your parents are bashing your partner anyway, you may need to set some boundaries.
Tell your parents that hearing them constantly bad-mouthing your S.O. is hurting the dynamic you have with your partner.
“Boundaries might include limiting the type of information that you choose to tell them about your partner or relationship,” deVos said. “Or they may even be deciding to limit the situations in which you and your parter spend time with your parents, if their opinions or dislike for your partner feel particularly harmful or even damaging to your relationship.”
Talk about what you’re going through with a trusted friend, relative or therapist.
For Kiu, talking to a mental health professional helped her come to terms with the difficult situation with her parents.
“It really helped me work towards accepting a reality where my parents may not be involved in a big part of my life,” she said. “You can’t control what others feel, and fighting for their acceptance often leads to more anguish.”
Should you tell your partner that your parents don’t like them?
So your parents have made it crystal clear that they’re not fond of your partner. Is this information you should keep to yourself, or is it something you should share with your partner (if they don’t already know)?
There’s no cut-and-dry answer, but deVos suggests asking yourself the following question before making a decision: “What will telling my partner accomplish?” Then play out the scenario in your head: “How will my partner likely respond? How will my parents act toward me and my partner if they know I’ve revealed this information?” Decide if you’re prepared to deal with the possible outcomes, deVos said.
“Circumstances in which it may be advisable to inform your partner of this reality may be when not disclosing this information may leave your partner vulnerable to hurt or attack,” she said. “Or if you feel that this information would be beneficial to them in deciding how to navigate relationships with your family members.”
Ultimately, if your parents refuse to budge, you can’t force them to change their minds
And if your parents are mistreating or disrespecting your partner or your relationship, know that you don’t have to just “suck it up.”
“Be very clear with your parents that this is your choice, not theirs,” Tessina said. “See them on occasion without your S.O., and tell nice stories about how great you two are doing. Cut contact down with your parents until they realize they have to accept your choice.”