Gay men aren’t the only folks who have complicated relationships with parents and in-laws, of course. But while straight couples typically get a lot of recognition, support and encouragement from their parents and other family members, things are often different for us. Some families are very welcoming. Other families are indifferent or hostile, and that can complicate loving relationships between men.
Enlightened parents welcome a son or daughter’s partner into the family. Even if this feels like uncharted territory to Mom and Dad, they grasp that the new love in their son’s life is the important thing, not the gender of the person offering that love. Family get-togethers may be awkward times when protocol is still being determined, but good intentions and clear communication are enough to smooth over most rough spots.
How to establish a good relationship between you and your partner and your parents?
For starters, if you’re not already out to your parents – this is the time to do so. They need to understand that your partner is your partner – not a roommate, “friend” or some other shrunken version of your true relationship. If your parents want to introduce your significant other as “our son’s friend” if you bump into their acquaintances, that may not be a big deal. But it is a very big deal for you to represent the relationship that way to people in your family network.
Be clear about what you want and expect when you introduce your partner to your family. Are you looking for parental approval? If you are close to your parents it is understandable that you would want their support, but be clear: you are an adult, and your life choices do not depend on Mom and Dad’s approval. In fact, implying that you want that approval puts your parents in an awkward position. Now instead of just meeting your beau, they have to give him their seal of approval. Wouldn’t it be enough if they were simply polite and friendly around him?
Make it easy for your parents to give you what you want. “Mom, I want you and Dad to come over for dinner next Saturday and meet my boyfriend Michael” is pretty clear. “Um, Mom, there’s something I’ve been wanting to tell you. I don’t know if this is a good time, but well, um, I’m seeing this guy Michael and I wanted to let you know” is not clear communication. Put yourself in your mother’s place. How is she supposed to react? You sound ambivalent and uncertain. Her reaction is likely to reflect that.
What to do when parents are unwelcoming to your partner, despite your best intentions? This can create a painful dilemma; it can feel as if you must choose between your family relationships and your relationship with your partner. While sometimes that is exactly the choice that must be made, more often the choice is really about how to respond to familial bullying.
For those of us who have been raised to be the proverbial “best little boy in the world,” it can be disorienting to realize that it’s time to stand up to family pressure.
Remember: you’re an adult now, and if you and your partner have made a commitment that reflects your love and devotion to one another, then he is your primary family now.
John R. Ballew, M.S. an author and contributor to GAYTWOGETHER, is a licensed professional counselor in private practice in Atlanta. He specializes in issues related to coming out, sexuality, relationships and spirituality. If you have any questions or comments you can submit them directly to GAYTWOGETHER or John R. Ballew, M.S. - www.bodymindsoul.org.