If your parents can’t stand your significant other, it’s not the end of the world

The breakout star of last night’s season finale of The Bachelor was not Hannah Ann Sluss, despite her thoroughly cathartic conversation with Peter Weber after he broke off their engagement. It wasn’t our future Bachelorette Clare Crawley either, who is making history as the oldest woman on the show to have over a dozen men vying for her heart. Actually, it was Barbara Weber, Peter’s outspoken mother. 

While both Peter’s father and brother shared their misgivings about his future with his chosen partner Madison, mostly focusing on their different lifestyles and her strong religious background, it was Barbara who the camera followed throughout the live finale taping, like she was an Oscar hopeful waiting to see if her name was called. Barbara wholeheartedly wanted her son to end up with 23-year-old Hannah Ann, citing the model’s undoubting commitment to Peter. Madison, on the other hand, was purportedly three hours late to meet the family and didn’t apologize for making the Webers wait, on top of her own wavering feelings. 

Peter may have picked Madison, but there wasn’t an easy resolution at the end of the night.

“Chris, he’s going to have to fail to succeed,” Barbara told Bachelor host Chris Harrison, emphasizing her disapproval.

Her son replied simply, “I’m telling you that I love Madison, and that should be enough.”

Whatever your feelings about Peter’s decision, the issue of having a partner your parents disapprove of is a fairly universal one. With that in mind, HelloGiggles spoke to licensed clinical psychologist, Dr. Avigail Lev, director of the Bay Area CBT Center and founder of cbtonline.com, on how to navigate the rocky terrain of when parents object to a romantic partner. According to Dr. Lev, when parents express objections to your partner, the first thing you should do is step back and recognize the system you are in.

“You want to be thinking about your family system and what is the function of your parents’ behaviors,” she says. By this, she means examining your parents’ past behavior to see if their disapproval is part of a larger pattern. Have they objected to your partners before, or your siblings’ significant others? Are there other patterns at work? For example, are women in your family threatened by other women, or are there absent male figures who color perceptions of new men entering the equation? Recognizing the system your family operates in is key to breaking a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts, as we tend to date people who reflect our own family dynamics. 

If your parents express their disapproval of your partner in private, as Peter’s family did in the first part of the season finale in Australia, then Dr. Lev says you have a chance to assert yourself and your relationship with your loved one.

“Step one is being very firm and going, ‘Hi, Mom. Hi, Dad. This is the person I chose, this is the person I love, this is the person who makes me happy and we’re going to be living our lives together. Is this something you can accept? Because you have to accept the situation and I won’t accept you saying these things to my partner,’” she says.

Another factor to keep in mind is whether your partner participates in a behavior that strains the relationship between them and your parents. According to Dr. Lev, you should communicate with your significant other that you want them to actively keep from engaging in such behavior. You and your partner are first and foremost a team, and you need your teammate to understand the game plan. 

“It sounds like Madi could have done a couple of behaviors that would have made [Peter’s] parents feel better, very small, simple steps of action that could have helped the situation,” Dr. Lev says. “He would need to have a conversation with her about what’s happening for her and clarify with her the behaviors that are making things worse and negotiate with her other ways of responding that don’t make the situation worse.” 

Even after taking these steps, some parents will still choose to be openly hostile to your partner. It’s a heartbreaking set of circumstances, but taking the time to have thorough conversations with your partner about “what’s working, what isn’t working, and what is intolerable” is vital to ensuring that they know you are on their side. Dr. Lev also notes that the level of hostility determines your response. 

“If it’s mild hostility it could just be coming up with little gestures,” she says. “Let’s say you’re at Christmas dinner, [you can develop a plan with your partner then]; any time your mom says anything about their cooking, you give your partner a compliment, or any time your partner starts feeling frustrated, they send you a text and you both go outside and you hug.”

If the hostility is much higher, then the boundaries you set for your parents need to match. Instead of making rules for certain behavior that’s acceptable during holidays, you may forgo family gatherings altogether. Dr. Lev emphasized, “Have a conversation with your parents about what you will accept and what you won’t accept and the behavior that occurs that will make you leave the situation.” 

Despite all these steps, unfortunately, parental disapproval can still lead to rifts in families and within romantic relationships. However, Dr. Lev sees these tensions as opportunities “for the couple to understand one another…to identify needs, to come up with an action plan, to be a team.” Together, you can decide which situations are uncomfortable versus which are intolerable. From there, you can make a strategy for these two different states to show your partner just how much you care. You may not have control over how your parents feel, but you can control how you show love to your significant other.