Managing Wider Relationships as a Couple
Once you and your partner have an established relationship, you will need to work out your identity as a couple.
You'll need to deal with routine matters, such as how frequently you see each others' families, and more direct challenges, such as disagreements with family members.
What your close friends and family think of your partner is important to the success of the relationship.
People often make more effort with a new partner and/or their partner’s family early on in a relationship, but problems may start to emerge later on. How the two of you deal with these is often the determining factor in whether the relationship can continue.
What you think of your new partner is the most important thing.
However, if you can tell that none of your close friends or family like your partner, despite their best efforts to be polite, you might want to think again about the relationship.
Those close to you have your best interests at heart and you may not be thinking clearly in the excitement of a new romance.
Introducing Your New Partner to Your Family and Friends
Initial introductions of a new partner to family and friends is always a bit of a challenge.
No matter how relaxed everyone tries to be, there is inevitably some tension. However, there are a few ways to make it easier to manage the situation.
Pick the right occasion.
Try to find a time when everyone is reasonably relaxed. Occasions like Christmas or other holidays are often times when people are already stressed, which will not bring out the best in everyone.
Don’t introduce your partner too soon.
You may be very keen to introduce your new partner to everyone as quickly as possible. However, this may not be the best move. If you met your partner soon after leaving another relationship, you might want to wait a little while before introducing them to everyone. If your friends and family were close to your previous partner, they may need time to adjust, especially if they associate your new partner with the breakup. It is also worth waiting a while to be confident that your relationship will last, especially before introducing your partner to your children.
Ensure your partner is warned about anyone difficult in advance.
If someone in your circle has a rather abrupt or aloof manner, or generally says little, tell your partner that before they meet them. This will make sure that they do not blame themselves if they find them difficult.
Be prepared to rescue your partner if necessary.
You may be getting signals, deliberate or otherwise, that your partner is uncomfortable or getting tired, especially given that trying to make a good impression on a new group of people can be exhausting. Our pages on Non-Verbal Communication explain what you might see and, if necessary, you can make an excuse for the two of you to leave.
Managing Ongoing Family Relationships
In the tension of introducing your new partner to your family, you may fall into the trap of thinking that, once this is over, everything will fall into place and there will be no more problems. This is not the case.
Your relationships with family members changes over time, and new issues may emerge.
It may help to establish some understandings early on between the two of you about what is acceptable and what it not.
As the Relationship Develops: Some Dos and Don’ts
DO present a united front. If you are unhappy about your partner’s behaviour, discuss it when you are alone. Having a disagreement in front of others is embarrassing for everybody.
DO NOT emphasise your partner’s bad points to others. It is natural to want to seek the opinion of others when you and your partner have had a disagreement. However, if you are continually moaning to your family about your partner, it will be hard for them to support the relationship, or welcome your partner in the longer term.
DO make it clear that you are prepared to make the effort to have good relationships with people who are important to your partner. Their family members are going to be around for a long time and you can make an effort to be pleasant without having to be close to them. It is likely that you will both have to put up with some people that you are less keen on.
DO NOT allow other people to put you on the spot. If someone asks if the two of you want to join them for a special occasion, such as a holiday or a trip away, say politely but firmly that the two of you will discuss it and let them know. Your partner may have other plans or might feel that they are not ready for that level of commitment. Our pages on Assertiveness may be useful here.
DO bear in mind that things will change over time. In the long term, some difficult parents make superb grandparents and you may be very glad of them once you have children.
If you feel that someone in your partner’s circle does not approve of you, it's a good idea to discuss it with your partner.
This person might be notoriously hard to please, in which case you probably don't need to worry too much. They might have been very close to a previous partner. Or if there is an issue specific to you, your partner may know what it is. This may not be an easy discussion to have and you need to listen carefully to your partner before reacting: see our pages on Challenging Conversations, Listening Skills and Giving Feedback to Partners to help you.
Likewise, it may be best to let your partner know if you find somebody difficult.
Stick to saying how you feel in their company rather than making sweeping statements about the person. Your partner may be sympathetic, even if they are fond of the other person. However, be particularly careful about what you say about family members: it can be hard for your partner to hear them criticised, even when they also find them difficult. If one of the family has been directly unpleasant to you, stick to the facts about what was said without insisting upon a specific response from your partner.
Relationships With Children
Developing a positive relationship with children can be particularly challenging.
If you or your partner already has children, it can take a while for the other party to establish a good relationship with them. Children are often less able to hide their feelings and may be very vulnerable if their parents have only recently split up.
Take it gently, be patient and remember that you need to behave like an adult, even when the children are being difficult.
Be very careful about offering criticism of children.
Whilst they should be encouraged to behave well and disciplined when they do not, parents often find it very hard to deal with complaints about their children. However, if you handle a conflict well, it can clear the air and help to establish good relationships for the future: see our pages on Conflict Resolution and Mediation for more.
Do not put your partner in the position where they feel that they have to choose between you and their children. It is very unfair and you are likely to lose, or at best, cause lasting damage. If you really cannot live with their children, it may be best to end the relationship.
It is very rare that two people can manage to integrate their worlds without some degree of difficulty.
However, these difficulties can be sorted out. You will, with any luck, find some new friends and family that you are very fond of and who, like a loving partner, enrich your life.