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Coping With Your Partner's Family


Updated: April 10, 2007

Joining someone’s family as a result of a serious long-term relationship is not always easy. You choose your partner, not his or her family, although you do have to have a relationship with their family as well. For ease, a partner’s family is described as being “in-laws” in this article.

With in-laws, you find a group of people that have had, and continue to have, unique personal relationships with your partner that existed prior to your involvement with him or her, and will continue outside of your relationship. Partners will have expectations of the continued involvement of each family member, which can result in you having to relatively intimate relationship with his mother, father, and siblings – regardless of your feelings about them. In addition, these people have all had a relationship with shared memories -- good and bad -- that are not part of your relationship. This alone can trigger uncomfortable feelings for someone with borderline personality disorder (BPD), as BPs may have a great deal of difficulty knowing how to relate to these seemingly random people.

It can be frustrating for a BP when her partner wants to have close relationships with his family members, especially if she feels her partner has been hurt by them (such as an abusive household). The BP may believe that her partner is making excuses, and not seeing his family in a true light.

Tensions also may occur due the BP feeling personally rejected by her partner’s family. These feelings of rejection may result from any number of things, including the belief that they dislike her, doubt her competency or question her parenting decisions and abilities.

Often the BP has an increased sensitivity to rejection, which can cause her to think that people are unhappy with or rejecting her. In addition, splitting, a hallmark of those with borderline personality disorder, makes coping with the feelings of rejection even more difficult. Despite these issues, the nature of in-laws generally means that the relationships must be maintained regardless of the tensions felt.


When a person with borderline personality disorder is feeling rejected, it can be difficult for her to clearly understand why she is feeling this way, much less address the situation rationally. The BP may instead focus on getting others to agree with her that she was unfairly hurt -- reliving the pain of the rejection with each recounting. When hurting, the splitting makes it impossible for her to see any positive aspects of her in-laws or her relationship with them. She may be frustrated that her partner does not understand the pain that her his family is causing her.

In-laws are people that a BP is going to have to a relationship with in some fashion for a long time, especially if there are children. Reacting in 4he moment, or before all of the potential consequences have been determined, can have permanent and painful repercussions for everyone involved, including the BP. Most likely impulsive reactions will just come out in anger, and the real feelings will not be heard or addressed.

There are some things that BPs can do to better address their issues with rejection to better handle the inevitable feelings.

  1. Breathe
    At the first sign of hurt feelings, take several slow silent deep breaths. Concentrate on the breaths, consciously trying to blow out some of the physical and emotional discomfort.
  2. Get Some Distance
    If it is at all possible get away from the offending person; take a break, go for a walk if there are no other options. There are very few situations that need to be addressed immediately, and getting some distance will allow for the intensity to lessen a bit.
  3. Remember Your In-Laws Are Your Partner's Family
    Focusing on the realities of the relationship with the person that hurt you will help keep excessively emotional reactions in check.
  4. Write It Down
    Use a private journal to write down what happened and what you are feeling. Use this as a means of expressing your hurt, without having to censor your thoughts. The purpose of this writing is to help you make sense of your feelings, not to share with those who hurt you.
  5. Identify Your Feelings
    Using what you have written, identify some feeling statements.
  6. Talk About Your Feelings With Your Partner
    Your partner is the reason that you are having the relationship with your in-laws, therefore talking and strategizing with your partner is an important step in coping with the feelings while not damaging your future relationship.
  7. Identify Your Purpose
    Before any issues are addressed it is important to know what your purpose is (or what you hope to accomplish) before you react.
  8. Identify What Your Options Are
    Looking at the situation, identify what, if anything, could be done to address the situation and help you feel better.
  9. Decide What To Do
    Be realistic, consider who is involved and what the outcome of any action could be and what will be accomplished by addressing the issue. It is OK to decide not to confront the family; sometimes confrontation is not productive.

In addition to talking to your partner, it is a good idea to honestly discuss what happened and how you feel with your therapist. A therapist, who is aware of BPD, can assist the BP in determining appropriate and effective methods of communicating with those who are causing the hurt. Friends and partners, although supportive, are not therapists and are not always able to help a BP identify what is part of the borderline personality disorder impacted experience and what is an appropriate hurt feeling. A good therapist can help arm the BP with the skills to relate to people that easily trigger the hurt feelings.

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  5. Coping - Relationships With Partner's Family - Relationships With In-Laws

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