Dating and the Family

You never date someone in a vacuum.

From the first date to the last day of whatever relationship you have, you deal with the way the other person was raised, the values they hold as a result, the people they have known the longest - with their family.
As more people opt to raise children outside marriage, the likelihood of dating someone with kids increases.  Of all family-related dating landmines, this is probably the most delicate.  First of all, if you don't want be with someone with children, then do not date anyone with children.  They are not going to go away.  Most people with children are always going to put them first and this is something you should admire about them.  If you cannot deal with this - and that's perfectly reasonable - acknowledge this and stick to your guns.  
If you choose to date people with children, try to understand where they are coming from. Single parenting can be difficult and time-consuming.  He is likely to have less time for dating and to have to go to greater lengths to make a date.  Realize this and don't cancel on him three times.  If you like someone who has kids, be patient about meeting the young ones.  You can't expect a parent to introduce everyone they date to their children.  It would be confusing for kids and awkward for you.  After a reasonable period of time, though, broach the subject and find out what's going on in your partner's head.  His children might have become emotionally attached to his last girlfriend and he doesn't want to risk you meeting them until he's very, very sure.  Or, maybe he wasn't sure you wanted to meet them and a little talk will solve that problem.  Either way, do communicate when it gets to be something about which you need answers.
Other members of your significant other's family may be less daunting.  May be.  I have a friend whose first three dates with a guy included his (hostile) older brother.  The relationship did not progress further.  So, yes, other family members can be a challenge.  Always remember that your date has known his sisters or parents his whole life and you just met him.  Do not say negative things about them, even if you date does so.  Do not be jealous of them.  If after some time, you feel he is constantly putting family before you, try to say something delicately. If it doesn't work, you may need to end things because you don't want to be in a relationship where you feel as though you are not prioritized as you would like to be.  
Now what if you do feel good about your girlfriend and the way she treats you, but you just don't get along with her family?  For some people, this is a deal breaker, but usually we learn to balance things.  Always try to remember that your partner's relationship with family is complex and longstanding.  Try to see the good they see in parents who drive you crazy.  Vent to your friends or your own family and not your significant other - that will only create tension and make your encounters with family more fraught.  
Let your significant other take their time introducing you to family.  Unless they are estranged (which may or may not be a warning sign), it will happen eventually.  Pressuring your boyfriend is not going to make anyone happy or comfortable, so try to things in stride.  
It may be that family is not important to the person you date.  Ok, yes, if you've been dating two years and have yet to meet the mother he claims to love, maybe you can ask about that. And if your partner is hiding you from the family because they will not approve of something major about you (race, gender, religion), they probably shouldn't be the person for you.  But generally family relationships are complex and require patience on the part of anyone who hopes to enter into that circle.  
Once you know your partner's family, reach out to them.  Even if you are shy, make efforts to get to know them.  If your partner is close to his or her family, this is incredibly helpful because it means there will be no division of affection.  It makes a relationship much easier.  If your partner doesn't like their family, then limit your involvement but try to keep the door open for them should the dynamic change.  
Overall, try to understand any family dynamic that involves your significant other.  Then decide whether you want to be a part of that or not.  If you do, then be as positive and patient as possible.  Always remember that it is your choice - don't stay in a relationship that is not working for thinking it will change.  Ideally, you and your partner would merge all family members into a fun and cohesive group, but life does not always work out that way.  Be prepared to compromise for someone you care about.



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Posted 05-10-2013 5:30 pm by