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Interracial Couples: Set Boundaries with Critical Family Members and Enjoy Your Relationship!

Interracial Couple Enjoying their relationship
Photo by Lucxama Sylvain, Pexels

You’ve met someone! And it’s working. Really, really well. You can really see a future with them.

But not everyone in your family thinks they're such a good match for you.

This problem isn’t unique to interracial couples, but it’s unfortunately somewhat common for them.

Criticism about your chosen partner being of a different racial background can certainly come from racist family members. But, depending on your racial identities, your family members' criticism may also stem from their experiences and emotions related to racism, classism, and other oppressions.

Dealing with family feedback can be complex, to say the least.

Regardless of the exact circumstances, dealing with unapproving family members is never fun. Here are some steps interracial couples can take to reduce the impact other people's opinions have on your relationship.

Don’t take it on.

It can be hard not to take these things personally, especially if you are dealing with family members you have been close to in the past. But if you can, try not to take it on as your own. Their opinion is their responsibility and, if they choose to treat it as such, their burden. It is not yours.

Recognize the context of their criticism.

What are their own identities? What are the power dynamics between you? Are they of a different generation? Do they hold different values, political identities, or religious beliefs than you? This context might open an access point to understanding & compassion, or disappointment & anger, or a mixture of both.

Take time to ground into your own reality and desires.

Although the pressure may feel high, you do not need to react urgently to the rift between you and your family members. If you can give yourself some time and space to process how all the different parts of you feel then you can respond from your own wholeness.

A transfeminine non-binary person and transmasculine gender-nonconforming person looking at a phone with upset expressions
Photo from Vice Gender Spectrum Collection

Let your partner in.

Share with your partner what your relationship with your family of origin means to you: is it the most important thing in the world for you, or insignificant compared to your chosen family? Do you feel hopeful about growth and repair with your family members? Do you hope to be integrated into one another's family, or does your time together and your relationship with shared community satisfy you? This is also an opportunity to see how your partner can handle complex situations like this, and how you communicate throughout it.

Decide together what the parameters are for time with your families.

What are your expectations of family members and what will you do if your boundaries are disrespected? Consider what you need from each other in order to feel comfortable or safe at family events, if you decide to go. Keep in mind that if one partner feels that they are over-compromising, or has to bear the brunt of the family backlash alone this can lead to resentment. Remember that you have to approach this together and do your best to be both honest and compassionate as things come up. As a safeguard, you might also consider what you need to add to or work on in your relationship to build up the sense of connection and refuge between you.

Communicate with family members.

To the extent that you and your partner decide is necessary, set boundaries and expectations with family members. In some cases, it might feel easier to pick your battles, let some things go, and just avoid certain family members. In other cases, it will feel necessary to express behavior and language that you and your partner will not accept. It’s also possible that you feel mostly compassion for your family member, that you want to call them in, or move past this. In my opinion, this option assumes your family member truly does want what is best for you and will not harm you or your partner, physically, emotionally, or otherwise.

Make this your own.

Depending on you and your family members' identities this can be a really nuanced subject. It’s also possible that your perspective and response will evolve over time. The template above is a just one guide for navigating criticism about your interracial relationship, and can be used as a guide for discussion between you and your partner. It can also be useful when addressing unsolicited criticism from friends, colleagues, and random strangers.

Couples Therapy for Interracial Couples

You and your partner don’t have to figure this all out on your own, though. I help interracial couples with issues like addressing racism within their relationships, setting boundaries with family members, and more. Learn more about couples therapy and schedule a consultation today.

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