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My partner is a different race than me. How do I tell my family about them?

mixed race couple smiling

Your boo is a different race than you and things are getting serious. You feel it’s time to tell your family about them, and you realize in doing so that they will find probably out about your partners racial identity.

Now it’s possible - and I wish this for you so deeply - that you feel fine and dandy. That you know your family will embrace your partner. And that things will probably be alright.

But it’s also possible that you’re not so sure how they’ll respond. Or that you’re nervous about what they’ll think. This blog is for you. Read on for a step-by-step guide on what you need to think about and plan for.

Decide if it’s worth it:

First consider not just if you want to tell your family, but why. Is it because you want your partner to be part of your family? Or because you feel like you’re keeping a secret? Getting clear on this will help ground you if anything brings up anxiety or conflict.

Then decide if it’s worth it.

Why are you sharing this with them? What does your gut tell you about how they’ll respond? Are they raging racists, and this will only cause you and your partner harm? Do you feel up for the task of answering all their questions, or educating them. These are real questions some of the interracial couples I work with come up against, and there’s no right answer; just a right one for you.

However, I encourage you to recognize if in deciding not to educate them that comes from a place of privilege or of oppression. Meaning, if you are a white person not wanting to educate your family, that’s a different positionality than a Black person not deciding to educate their family.

When it comes to your relationship you also have to decide if it’s “worth it”. Are you willing to fight your family, potentially lose them, over this relationship?

Finally, put a loose plan in action. This doesn’t have to be excruciatingly thorough, but depending on your level of anxiety having plans for the best and worst outcomes can make responding in the moment of misunderstanding or conflict easier.

Hope-for-the-best planning:

brown woman and white man standing close to one another

This part is definitely a bit more simple than the prepare-for-the-worst section. Here are my two big tips:

  1. Tap into any sense of security you have with your family. What values do your family members share? Does your mom express unconditional love for you? Did your siblings vote “right” in the 2020 election? This isn’t to gaslight yourself into assuming it will go perfectly, but to give you something to ground yourself in. These can be especially helpful questions for those of us who tend to expect the worst or avoid having direct conversations, regardless of evidence otherwise.

  2. Sometimes family members get excited for the wrong reasons. I recently watched a very silly representation of an interracial couple on Netflix in the movie 'You People.' Julia Louis-Dreyfus played the (obviously) white mother of Jonah Hill's character who is dating a Black girlfriend played by the Beautiful Lauren London. Julia's character leaned toward overcompensating to communicate her "acceptance" of her Black future daughter-in-law, which only ended up driving a wedge between them. What will you do if your family behaves weirdly in welcoming your partner in.

  3. It’s ok to imagine what is on the other side of this if things go right. Consider what kind of circumstances would make everyone the most comfortable when you introduce them. Just as you would with introducing any partner to your family, consider the best setting: is it dinner at a restaurant? A walk in the park? It’s probably not at Grandma’s funeral.

Prepare-for-the-worst planning:

Hopefully, you aren’t actually preparing for the worst, but, you do have to consider it depending on who your family members are.

  1. Build a community of support around you. Let friends know what you’re planning to do. Have them come to comfort you and/or your partner if things go south. Consider individual and/or couples therapy.

  2. Confront what the costs will be to your wellbeing head-on. Think about what you’ll need to soothe yourself in the days leading up to and following this discussion. Can you try to get enough sleep? Take the next day off of work? Do you need to work out before you talk to get some excess energy out?

  3. Practice staying grounded and embodied. I always tell my clients it’s crucial to practice self-regulating when you’re not distressed. That way it’s easier to call on those skills when you are.

  4. Prepare for how you’ll respond. You might think about what questions you anticipate and write down your answers for them. You need to also think about what your boundaries are and remember that boundaries aren’t just set, they have to be held by you. Will you answer their every question and concern, or will you have to employ a blanket response “I understand your concern; but I’m choosing to do this because it feels best for me.”

  5. Be open with your partner ahead of time. Let this be a process you go through together, even if that means there are times when you talk with your family without them. These are dynamics you might have to weather for the rest of your relationship.

More resources for you

Whew! Ok - how you feelin’ after working through this?

I get it if this stuff brings up big feelings. I’ve got a free guide that can help you cope with big feelings and any conflict that comes up between you and your partner or your family.

That’s my Conflict & Connection E-Guide for Couples. Yes, it’s for couples, but it’s good for any relational conflict. It’s also got enough resources in there for you to practice self-regulation strategies on your own.

Get your instant free download by clicking the button below.

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