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The Best Way to Approach a Tough Conversation With Your Significant Other

3 minute read

This article originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

Question: My girlfriend’s parents are very involved in her life. She’s an only child, so I get it, but she talks to them every day and wants me to talk to them every day, too. I don’t even talk to my own parents that much, so why should I be expected to talk to hers? How do I get them to back off and give us some space?

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Response by Jennifer Gatti, Licensed Master Social Worker: Every day, huh? Well, on one hand, it’s nice that family is important to her, and her efforts to share those values with you is a good indicator of how she feels about you and your future together. On the other hand, if your present time together is dominated by struggling to make small talk with middle-aged Midwesterners about what happened on The Big Bang Theory, then it’s time to set some boundaries.

First of all, people can be extremely sensitive when it comes to their families, so you shouldn’t approach her as if there’s anything wrong or weird about their close relationship. Because, first of all, there isn’t. Second of all, you risk offending her. An accusatory “Why do you talk to your parents so much?” might not be received as well as an observant “Wow, your family seems so much closer than mine.”

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In general, making gentle, curious statements will get you closer to understanding someone’s behavior than asking antagonistic questions will. Have a casual talk about her family’s dynamic, and then try sharing your own experiences about how and when you interact with your own parents. Remember that the goal isn’t just to get her to stop shoving the phone in your face, but to manage your expectations about each other individually and as a couple.

I’d also recommend that this discussion be had at a time when you’re not feeling upset about having just had your usual, perfunctory conversation with your girlfriend’s parents. It’s best to pick a time when you’re not feeling irritated, a time when you’re both feeling safe and loved. Freaking out and suddenly screaming, “I don’t care about your dad’s cat!” will only make you seem like a jerk. But, if you speak to your girlfriend in a calm manner and with the idea that it will ultimately bring you closer together, you are more likely to have good and productive conversation.

It could be that your girlfriend just loves talking to her parents so much that she wants you to love it too. So, do your best to tread lightly and honestly, making sure to express nothing but respect for her and her parents.

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