Expert Q&A: Getting Along With a Loved One's Partner
Q: I really don't like my friend's partner. What do I do?
A: As they, you can't pick your parents-or the partners of your friends and family. Too often you're "stuck" with frequent contacts that include the partners of your siblings and friends-and even you're your parents! Oh, it's so hard and tiring to hang out or "date' other couples in search of that elusive four-person compatibility between you and your partner and your friend and his or her partner. If only friendship and closeness were easier.
The most typical complaints are that you have nothing in common, you just don't particularly care for the partner or that you sense that the partner has serious flaws such as being abusive or alcoholic. What do you do? Just cringe and bear it-and make sure not to sit near the person at the Thanksgiving table? Or, do you speak up to your friend or family member about the partner's destructive behavior? Of course, every situation is different, but here are some guidelines.
1. Stay in a loving mindset. You're upset about the lack of connection because you like and care about the people you love--sister, cousin, parent or friend, for example. You had high hopes of socializing, spending the holidays together, traveling as a group, and forming one of those tight little worlds that seem so attainable in movies.
But, oops! Things aren't turning out that way. The problem is that love is still a mystery. Social scientists can only explain about 85 percent of behavior. There are always wild cards in life. Think about all the couples you know who make you think, "What do they see each in other?" And the next time you go to the mall, observe all the seemingly "mismatched" couples. As many grandmothers have said, "there's a lid for every pot."
So, your best overall strategy is to sustain your loving mindset, accept that you don't know everything about your loved ones needs, and accept and celebrate the happiness of the ones you love.
2. Find common interests and values. Make a connection. Find something-no matter how small. Maybe you like the same television shows, sports teams or political commentators. It really doesn't matter. The goal is to establish some emotional glue.
3. Do active activities together. Even if you can't find common ground, one solution is to do things together instead of getting trapped in activities that primarily relies on talking to each other. The pleasure of going out to eat at your favorite restaurant dies quickly if the rest of the evening is spent struggling for conversation. Instead, do something. Go hiking, play golf or tennis, attend an event such as a boat or car show or go to a movie or lecture and talk about that afterwards. My favorite holiday activity is to participate in a charitable event such as a soup kitchen or giving toys to children.
4. Add others to your time together. If you are still really struggling to feel comfortable, invite others to be with you. If you choose people whom you think would get along, they can serve as buffer zones who weaken your discomfort.
5. Only speak up if you see mistreatment or detrimental behavior. Keep your opinions to yourself about the partners of your loved ones. After all, you don't really know about their attraction or what goes on in their home. However, if you care about your friends and family, you should consider saying something to them whenever you spot abuse or problematic behaviors such as drunk and disorderly conduct. If you are uncomfortable speaking to the person alone and you don't want to get caught in the dynamic of "kill the messenger," then do a group intervention. Always lead with caring words such as: "This is difficult to talk about, and you might be angry for a while that we brought it up, but we've noticed for a long time that Bob has been..."
Of course, you might rock-or risk-the friendship, but, usually, your loved ones know that you have their interest at heart.
6. Do not do a "I told you so" or an "I never liked Mary." Even if your loved ones split up with the person, never say anything negative about the other person. You never know when couples might get back together. Instead, offer support and friendship.
7. Do things with just your friend or family member. Don't let your dislike of the partners prevent you from continuing to do a "just the girls" or "just the guys" time together. Sustain the love in your relationships. Good and caring people are hard to find!
Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, ED.D., MSS is a noted psychologist and lic. clinical social worker, specializing in relationships. For her book about women and love, she welcomes women to take her 17-20 minute online research survey at www.lovevictory.com. Also on her website, if you donate $5 to Habitat for Humanity-Sarasota, Florida, you can receive a download of her relationship advice cartoon book for women, "The Love Adventures of Almost Smart Cookie."
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