One of the great changes that has happened in the last 20 years has been that more and more people are accepting that people love other people of the same sex. But that’s not at all universal, and many couples in our community deal with family that won’t respect their relationships.
We got a letter recently, that included this (edited to anonymize the author):
I came out to my family a few years ago. They don’t accept my “situation” as they call it and they only see my partner as a friend, nothing more or less. One sibling recently told me they have no desire to ever see me again. I have shared all of these things with my partner and this in turn has only made her angry and want nothing to do with any of my family. Lately, I have found myself becoming bitter towards her. I feel her anger and comments like “just ignore them all and cut them off” is only making this more difficult for me. I won’t just cut them off as they are the only family I will ever have and they haven’t shut me out, but they are only conditionally accepting me. I just wish my partner was more supportive of me.
We also have clients that have similar issues. It is not at all a surprise to me that this woman’s partner is angered by her family. That’s a pretty natural response. If you are the partner with the non-accepting family, be clear about what kind of support you want from your partner around this issue. Asking your partner to be in contact with your family is not necessarily a request you should expect her to want to honor. She might, but her decision about it needs to be honored.
If you are the partner of someone with a non-accepting family, understand that she might not want to stop communicating with her family – that connection might be really important to her. Be her ally – listen to her feelings, and when appropriate, of course, express yours in a self-responsible way. For example, if she’s just had a bad conversation with her non-accepting mother, listen to her feelings and what’s going on for her. When she’s done, you might say something like, “I feel angry when I hear you talk about how your mother said those things to you. That just sucks that you have to go through that.” But don’t jump to making suggestions about what she should do. Listen, and if she asks for ideas, then give them honestly.
We don’t have control over who our family is, or who our partner’s family is, or what they think about our sexual orientation. We do have control over how we respond to it. Finding our way to be allies instead of pitted against each other in power struggles is always best. But in this case, being allies can make a huge difference in your experience of dealing with family that doesn’t accept you and your partner.