How to Best Support Partner While Spending More Time with My Family?
July 6, 2021 2:58 PM   Subscribe

My partner generously agreed to my request to move closer to my family. How can I best support my partner as we spend more and more time with my family?

My partner and I previously lived in the middle of the country. Our families live on opposite coasts. It was a struggle to divvy up the holidays for travel. We ended up seeing our families once or twice a year, and the grind of holiday travel wore on us.

My partner generously agreed to move to be closer to my family. (My partner works remotely at their dream job.) We're now living within a 3-hour drive to my parents. One bonus for my partner is we now spend most major holidays and a couple of big trips with their family since we're not divvying up time anymore.

Overall, my partner and family get along great. But my family is not my partner's family.

What do you do to support your partner with your family? And what does your partner do to best support you with their family?

Please note that I have talked with my partner about this, but I would like suggestions outside of our experience that I could incorporate. Thank you!
posted by cursed to Human Relations (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
But my family is not my partner's family.
Ideally I think the idea is that over time this division ceases to exist. Your family literally becomes your partner's family. Otherwise it's too hard for humans to function long-term in a situation like that.
So ways to facilitate that transition -
Does your partner feel comfortable and included when you're hanging out with family? Little things like, when they come in the room, people make room for them to sit down? That's a big one for me. Do they get included in conversation, like "Cursed's-partner, what do you think?" Making space for partner physically and mentally I guess is the big thing that comes to mind for me.
posted by bleep at 3:02 PM on July 6, 2021 [4 favorites]

I honestly haven't really done anything beyond what I would normally do when introducing my partner to someone they don't know, and this approach has been fine. Which makes me wonder if there is more to this question? It sounds like they've met your family a fair bit, and you say they get along great - what more are you expecting? This seems like a non-problem.
posted by coffeecat at 3:17 PM on July 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

One thing that's been really helpful for us (married 31 years) is agreeing that we don't have to visit with our families as a couple. He wants to spend two weeks with his folks at the beach but I can only manage about 4 days before I get grouchy, so that's how long I stay. I want to spend the night at my folks' once a month and he doesn't want to go that often, so I go by myself. We host both sets at our house a few times a year (and traveled more as a family unit when our children were younger), but dropping the expectation we had early in our marriage - that where one goes, so does the other - has been a big relief all around.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 3:25 PM on July 6, 2021 [35 favorites]

I don’t expect my partner to join me at every visit-or even most visits-with my family. My dad is terminally ill and I’m spending a lot of time with my folks. My husband really loves them and vice versa, but they aren’t his family (and it’s also special for me to have one on one time with them).

My parents are really really good about not criticizing my partner around me and don’t really support me in bitching about him.
posted by purenitrous at 3:26 PM on July 6, 2021 [4 favorites]

We live on one coast but have been planning a move back to the Midwest, ending up near his mom and 2-3 hours from my parents and sister (with my brother 5 hours in another direction). Throughout the pandemic we’ve been splitting our time between Michigan and NYC, which has given me a taste of the future transition.

One thing that I appreciate is that while we’ve had a standing Sunday plan to help his mom and then have dinner with her, he often asks if I want to come or stay home. I think it helps to set the standard that he may want to spend more time with her than I do and so it’s not always expected for me to join, but I’m always welcome.

We also have a weekly zoom with his family and I often will take a walk to decompress or quickly catch up on my usual calls.
posted by icaicaer at 3:29 PM on July 6, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: As someone who has been in your partner’s shoes, this is absolutely not a non-problem.

The fact that you’re traveling to visit their family is good. Is that still happening with Covid? That’s been a big issue for me. We moved with the intention of going back to see my family often, but that hasn’t actually worked out. It’s been... frustrating. And lonely.

You say your partner and your family get along, but do they really? My wife would say the same thing about me and her family, and I wouldn’t tell her I disagree, but I’m telling you guys that I disagree. My in-laws are nice, but very superficial. When I’ve tried to have deep conversations with them, especially about my feelings about being away from my family, I’ve come away disappointed. As a result, I just... don’t have those conversations, and that’s frustrating. So even if your partner is saying things are fine, prone a little deeper.

I agree with everyone else about not always seeing your family together. My wife has fridays off and a lot of times she’ll use that to go visit her family while I’m at work. Then we have the weekend for us and our kids. That’s been helpful for me in terms of feeling like I’m not just being assimilated into her family Borg.

Likewise, letting your partner visit their family on their own can be helpful, especially if you’re unable to travel as often as they’d like.

As with most relationship issues, talking openly and honestly is the best way to handle these things. Listen to your partner non-judgmentally and validate their feelings. And since you’re coming out ahead in this particular aspect of your relationship, let your partner “win” some other things, like where to eat dinner or whatever.
posted by kevinbelt at 3:39 PM on July 6, 2021 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Yeah, it's great you're thinking about this because it is not a non-problem. My in-laws are local and my own family of origin is a day's worth of flying away. In regular times this wasn't a big deal, but as kevinbelt mentioned, it really got to me during the past year.

It's already been mentioned, but the main thing my husband does that I really appreciate is give me the option of skipping low-key day-to-day family stuff. I like his family but they can be a Lot and I am not always up for the energy expenditure required to see them. I try to go to two things for every one I skip, or whatever, so that I'm there more often than I'm not but just having the option helps significantly.

I'm not sure if your partner has siblings, or if so, what their life situations are like, but in any case I would open a conversation about end-of-life stuff for your partner's parents (or any other elder relatives, if any) now even if it doesn't seem like it'll be relevant for decades. It's practical, but it will also demonstrate to your partner that you're willing to approach their side of the family as a team just as they've done for yours.
posted by superfluousm at 3:55 PM on July 6, 2021 [6 favorites]

It was a struggle to divvy up the holidays for travel.
One bonus for my partner is we now spend most major holidays and a couple of big trips with their family since we're not divvying up time anymore.

Maybe you all only have time off at holidays, but one of the best things my ex-husband and I ever did was to stop traveling to family at the holidays all the time. We stayed home and created our own traditions.

Also, yes, visit your families on your own sometimes. Maybe you don't want to do this over the holidays because you want to be together, but just because your are a couple doesn't mean you are attached at the hip. It's great to spend time with your family without your spouse there, too.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:12 PM on July 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

I don't spend time with my remaining parent. My partner is one of a tight family with lots of adult siblings and extended family. I get on with my in-laws and generally like the full extended family and am happy to spend time with them. I think what is useful is to try and work towards being able to say 'you don't have to come along if you would prefer a quiet weekend at home'. And mean it. Sometimes you will want your partner to come with, and you need to work to make that clear if that is the case too. You have to be honest about your preference for them. Equally they need to be able to say if they think you are asking for too many visits. There may be arguments if you have different feelings about acceptable frequency but ahead of that you may find sufficient flex that you can cut that off before it's an issue by getting both of you to be honest about the important Vs less important meet ups.
posted by biffa at 4:28 PM on July 6, 2021

Don't make your partner go with you every time you visit your family. When your family comes to visit or stay, have your partner make plans away for one day or night (if they want to), or plan something with your family that your partner doesn't want to do and have your partner stay home and relax. It's totally ok to not always be together as a couple when you do things with your family.

Ideally, your partner would think of your family as his/her family, but that's not always the case. Your partner might like and love your family but it is not as nice as being around your own family, or friends, or even alone (for introverts). And driving 3 hours each way to always be "on" during the visit is exhausting for some people.

Talk to your partner, ask what they prefer!
posted by at 4:45 PM on July 6, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: One thing to watch for is the topics of conversation when you hang out with family and your partner is present. If they are all based on things that predate your partner entering your life - people you grew up with, neighbourhoods you grew up in, events where they weren't present - your partner will feel very much excluded. This often happens because your parents and siblings revisit the time when you were close and had so much in common rather than shifting around for new topics. It's much easier to talk about what is going on with people you all knew fifteen years ago than it is to find new things you are all interested in. It's fun to go back into nostalgia and touch base with familiar things. But of course even inviting your partner to join in and explaining to them who all these people are doesn't make it something they can participate in.
posted by Jane the Brown at 4:53 PM on July 6, 2021 [11 favorites]

A couple of things I forgot in my first comment:

When you’re visiting your family, be careful not to fall back into old patterns of behavior with your parents or siblings. My wife is a middle child, and any time we’re around a sibling, she goes into full Jan Brady mode. It’s hard for me because the person I married is an accomplished professional with two masters degrees, not a needy child who gets upset if her mom pays more attention to her sister, you know? And it’s complicated. Because she is dealing with her own stuff, she’s not as attuned to how I’m feeling (by which I mean left out), and because I’m feeling lonely myself, I’m not as able to help her with her stuff. This can get tricky quickly.

You may have moved back near your family just because, but one of the most common reasons is so that they can help you and your partner do things you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. Childcare is the most obvious, and it’s been a particular issue for my in-laws and me, so that’s going to be the example I use, but it could also be dog sitting, or house sitting, or cleaning help, or whatever. The point is, whatever reason you wanted to be closer to your family, your family should hold up their end of the bargain. We moved so that my mother-in-law could help with the kids, but in four years, my mom has watched the kids as often as my MIL has, and we only see my mom twice a year. My sister-in-law doesn’t even need to drive to get to our house - there’s a bus - and yet she hasn’t babysat once. It feels like we got all the negatives of living near family without any of the benefits.

That leads me to wonder if your partner regrets moving. Had I known what I know now, about the family stuff, about other mental health stuff for me, about various other things, I never would have agreed to move. Part of my trouble is that my wife won’t acknowledge that, in large part because she’s near her family and it’s not as bad for her. So yeah, as I said before, listen to and validate your partner’s feelings.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:12 PM on July 6, 2021 [4 favorites]

Oh, one more thing and then I’ll stop. I’ve talked a lot about your partner’s needs because I’m in their shoes and it’s easy for me to identify, but you also need to feel comfortable speaking up for your own needs as well. Expecting someone to read your mind isn’t great for a relationship ever, but there are going to be times when your partner’s mind-reading capabilities are even further diminished. If you don’t let them know what you need, they might not figure it out, and then you could get resentful, and it could spiral downward. Even something simple like “hey, could you do the dishes and take out the trash while I’m at my parents’ this weekend?”
posted by kevinbelt at 5:50 PM on July 6, 2021 [3 favorites]

It sounds like your partner is awesome for agreeing to move and accepting your family. And your family is awesome for being so welcoming. And you are so rad to be so thoughtful about your partner's needs. It sounds like your partner's family is happy how things turned out too.

I think everyone has given good advice above. I second the suggestion of visiting your family alone sometimes. Or having them come visit while your partner is visiting their family. Etc.

I'd have regular check-ins, like 2-4 times a year, where you each share how you're feeling about the current arrangement. And be open to, in a few years, moving closer to their family for the sake of parity should they wish for it.

I moved back home to be near my parents, among other reasons, and now see them 1-3 times a week for a meal or to say hi as I live 20 minutes away. There is no pressure or expectations but, after having been so far, it's super awesome. My other siblings are close or far but don't visit much, which is also fine. My parents don't come to my place because they're homebodies but always welcome. I am currently single and have been mostly dating people who live away from their extended families, although some are close too. For a lot of middle-class white Americans, my amount of family contact could even be seen as enmeshment; for people of other cultural backgrounds, it's totally normal or even less than usual. It sounds like you and you partner have similar or complementary backgrounds and a shared understanding, which helps. Also, the specific location or logistics can play a role: we are just outside a big city, so it's easy to find fun things to do outside of home. If your family is as well, it's a lot easier for your partner to go into the city for a day alone to visit a museum while you hang with the family or for you both to be visiting your family but alone together said museum. Or out together in nature, etc.

If I were to get into a relationship, I'd probably keep seeing my family as much but mostly alone; the people I date tend to be pretty independent and we both like alone time so it'd be a non-issue. My parents are kind but we're all kinda weird. I'd expect a partner who loves being around my parents to visit maybe once a month with me; I'd expect a partner who prefers to do their own thing to come along maybe a few times a year. I'd do the same with their family, near or far. I'd love to date someone close to their local family where I was always welcome but never pressured. Some close family dynamics creep me out or exhaust me but it sounds like neither you nor I are dealing with that here. You two know what is best but that's where I am coming from, just as an example.

Whatever your partner's love languages are, I'd really lean in to those about this. I'm not saying you owe them constant gratitude but rather make them feel seen and appreciated for this. Gratitude, acknowledgement, and open lines of communication go SUCH a long way.
posted by smorgasbord at 8:01 PM on July 6, 2021 [2 favorites]

I'm in a similar (even more extreme) situation - my in-laws live literally next door, and my family is a plane ride away. The thing that has made this work is that we have an agreement that I am not expected to do *any* socializing unless I feel like it, and that my wife can spend whatever time with her parents that she wants. We have special-occasion stuff (birthdays, etc), and those are negotiated ahead of time, not an expectation. The same goes for when my parents visit - my wife can spend time with them as she pleases, and the responsibility of entertaining them is 100% on me.

And, most crucially, my wife took on the job of communicating these boundaries to her parents and didn't - and doesn't - pass any static on to me. (Not that there is any, I think - her mom is an introvert as least as big as I am - but if there is, it's not my problem.)
posted by restless_nomad at 7:27 AM on July 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

Always have your partners back. They don't want to go for a visit, you make excuses for them.
Your family don't like something your partner has done or want to gossip about them even for a small thing, cut that shit off at the pass.
posted by wwax at 8:18 AM on July 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

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