Psychology and Relationships

It's OK if you don't want your parents' opinion on who you date, psychology expert says—here's how to tell them

Milorad Kravic | E+ | Getty Images

The parent-child relationship is, by necessity, hierarchical. 

As a person transitions into adulthood, it's natural and healthy for this dynamic to change. That shift, as every adult child knows, can feel uncomfortable.

"People can feel stuck between showing respect for everything their parents have done for them, and feeling obligated to do what their parents says," says Thema Bryant, the president of the American Psychological Association. This is especially true when it comes to aspects of life where parents sometimes feel they should have an outsized say, such as who their child is dating. 

Bryant is also a professor of psychology at Pepperdine University and did her postdoctoral training at Harvard Medical Center's Victims of Violence Program.

If you have parents who tend to get too involved in your relationships, it's smart to implement some boundaries around what you tell them and who you bring around. 

Ask them to trust your judgment

What a person wants in their romantic partner and what their parents believe they should want in a romantic partner are often different. 

Let's say, for example, you're unhappy in your relationship, but your parents really like your partner and have vocalized that breaking up with them would be a mistake.

Bryant suggests saying something like, "On paper, it looks like we should be a good match, but what I'm sharing with you is that in our actual interactions, it doesn't work. You can't always make a decision based on a checklist." 

You don't have to bash your partner or even become combative with your parents. Just ask that they trust your judgment. 

"You can even say, 'I know you really like them, and if you were single, you could go out with them but it doesn't work for me,''' Bryant says. 

Other times, your family might dislike someone you're excited about. In this case, think about your parents' personalities. 

Sometimes families can notice our patterns before we do. Perhaps they see the person has controlling behavior, or that you're anxious around them. If they express these concerns, it's okay, and even smart, to think about how valid you feel they are. 

"It requires self-reflection and reflection on who your parents are," Bryant says.

If your family is generally hostile toward partners, consider that, too. 

"If you have a family that's not going to like anybody for you, then you don't really have to engage or dig deeper into that," Bryant says. 

Take a "sacred pause," she says, and just know in yourself that the relationship is a positive in your life. 

Remember you don't have to share everything 

Introducing potential partner after potential partner can by dizzying for a parent. Sometimes it's best to wait.

"If you are not going to take their advice, then there may be some things you don't share, because you are inviting them into your business [by telling them]," Bryant says. 

While no relationship is guaranteed to last, delaying an introduction can keep your parents' thoughts at bay while you're still figuring out how you and this person fit, or don't fit, together. 

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