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8 Ways Families of Origin Can Disrupt a New Relationship

The most common inter-family challenges young partners face.

RANDI GUNTHER Clinical Psychologist & Marriage Counselor

People seeking a successful relationship often do not realize how their extended families can affect a new connection. They don’t anticipate or realize how much influence childhood loyalties and current family expectations can undermine their commitment to each other.

It is hard enough for any couple to intertwine different histories, cultures, and belief systems on their own, let alone avoid being controlled by those who want them to repeat them untouched. If their extended families compete and attempt to maintain influence, they may inadvertently sacrifice each other to escape the conflict between their two loyalties. Their families may also ostracize them for non-compliance, leaving the couple in grief, which they might then project onto one another. Internalized, unresolved conflicts can impair a couple’s ability to trust their decision to prioritize their relationship’s expectations and dreams.

If a devoted couple recognizes and understands what they are up against, they can find ways to help each other navigate those dilemmas. Without the creation of their sacred pact and a mutually chosen path to manifest it, they will be unable to move forward, creating a new set of their traditions. The 8 Most Common Inter-Family Challenges

1. Religion. Religious beliefs are a major motivator in how people choose their lives. They also drive how people define moral actions and how people “should” behave. Depending on how ritualistic and committed the partners are to what they have been taught to believe and how to act in their families of origin, they may not be aligned in how they respond to those ethical requirements. When external family members pressure one partner to force religious beliefs on the other partner, it can create unmanageable conflict within their relationship. 2. Socioeconomic Status (SES). If one partner comes from a different SES than the other, the more status-secure external family may look on the other partner as “marrying up” and expect them to submit more to their wealthier family. The difference in being brought up in a struggling family from being raised in one that can afford more is often more markedly obvious in the way genders are viewed. It is often more difficult for men from "less" than for women, depending on their culture and family loyalty. 3. Mandatory Obligations. Many new relationship partners are no longer in close proximity to their extended families. Yet, their families of origin still have expectations that the couple will attend and respect certain rituals and observations. For instance, Thanksgiving may be a mandatory family reunion for one partner's family but the other may want to alternate or take that time for a personal vacation. Is Christmas Eve crucial for one family and Christmas day for another? The dilemma worsens when children come into the equation. 4. Familial Ownership Over Each Partner. Competition for a grown child’s allegiance can put that person in the middle of sometimes very toxic connections. In the four in-law interactions, the mother of a son can too often become competitive with her daughter-in-law. Some fathers do not like how the other extended family treats their daughters. Whatever role each father has played in rearing his child may become an unwelcome competition. 5. Cultural Expectations. It is often hard to separate cultural practices from religion, but there are differences. Distribution of resources such as time, energy, devotion, availability, support, and inclusion are often dictated by the expected rituals each extended family has. Are dependent parents automatically invited to live in their children’s homes? Are boundaries respected when the new couple needs to be left alone or is going through a problem unrelated to their extended families? Is the partner not raised in such traditions expected to give up their commitment to their own extended families or free to demand priority? 6. In-law Feuds. For various reasons, one member of an extended family may simply not like a member of the other; for example, the mother or father of one partner may feel their adult child is not being treated properly, or is being alienated from the parent by the other partner.

Fathers can compete over who has accomplished the most, or one may resent the feeling that their lifelong power over their child is being undermined by the other. Their inability to put their adult children’s needs above their own can pressure a new relationship as the young partners wants to protect each other from such conflicts. 7. Grandchildren. Many of these potentially intrusive and difficult situations don’t manifest until grandchildren come into the picture. Proximity may become a problem if one set of grandparents live further away or doesn’t have the means to compete with the other when it comes to gifts or vacations. Or, one family wants those grandchildren to follow their ways and beliefs and doesn’t want them undermined by a competing family’s desires for influence. 8. Communication Misunderstandings. Unless a new couple has talked through their misunderstandings over how they hear, see, or feel what the other means accurately, they can fall into negative patterns when influenced by those different interpretations more powerfully around their extended families. They may find themselves frantically trying to explain to the extended families that they didn’t mean what the others heard because it didn’t mean the same to them. That can trickle down to creating more problems for the couple as they ask them to interpret. * * *

Caveat: There may be times when a person is rebelling from their family origin and makes a choice for a partner that is not necessarily a good one. This is a painful conflict for their families of origin, knowing they are powerless to stop something they know will not work out in the long run. To reconnect at a future time, they must be patient and support the new relationship, hoping that, if it ends, their child will reconcile with them in the future.



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