Dear Therapist: My family has been living in America for 15 years and I am now away at college. I’ve finally met this amazing guy. He respects me, makes me laugh so much, and I am excited about him. We are getting closer to summer vacation and I would like for him to come visit me, which also means he would need to meet my parents. They are very conservative and traditional and have always made comments and been disapproving of me dating anyone who is not brown. Do you have any advice on how I can get my parents to see him for who he is? How should I handle this?
Frame Therapist Janet (Bayramyan) Generales weighs in…
I am so happy to hear you’ve met an amazing guy! Congratulations and so happy to hear about your new relationship. I really hear, though, how challenging it may feel to have him meet your family, particularly if your family is very conservative. First off, an important note to point out is that we cannot control how others view us and our lives. In a perfect world, our friends and our loved ones would be supportive whether they agreed or disagreed with our decisions. This is not likely how it is for most people, so what can help is to understand that you cannot control or change the opinion of others, including your family. If you come in with the notion that you don’t need to change them or their opinion, it may actually feel quite freeing to come in with the understanding that they are who they are. If you feel strongly about your relationship, and you and your partner support each other, your family will take note of that.
I would also recommend working on setting some ground rules and boundaries with your family. Whether or not your family agrees or disagrees with your decision within your partnership, it is important that they respect your partner. I would encourage you to inform your family to treat your partner with respect, and to give him a chance. You can also work on speaking with your partner on what would help them feel more comfortable in an uncomfortable situation. It could help to identify a safe word, and if either of you states this word, it means it’s time to leave or an indication that one of you needs support.
Given that your family are immigrants, immigrants take some time to acclimate to the U.S. and to American traditions of dating all types of cultures. If you try to convince your family to change, they may respond with heightened resistance, as they may feel a need to hold onto their values. I would recommend that if your family has a negative or hostile reaction, then have a plan for you and your partner to have a plan B for the evening or something fun scheduled for later so that the day can have some positivity associated with it.
At the end of the day, if your family loves you, and wants you in their lives, then they will have no choice but to accept your decision. It may not happen at first, but over time if your relationship withstands challenges and perseveres with respect and love, they will have no choice but to be understanding and respect it. If they are not, it sounds like it is their own issue, and their own need to work on themselves and their internalized prejudice.
About the therapist: Janet (Bayramyan) Generales is a licensed therapist, licensed in CA, FL and SC. Janet specializes in working with trauma survivors, those with challenges in their relationships and family dynamics utilizing EMDR and Brainspotting therapies. Janet believes in everyone’s internal resiliency and innate ability to heal.
Follow Janet on instagram @therapy_with_janetb