How to deal with your partner’s family and friends

Every month, Sarah Abell invites you to try a 30-day experiment to improve your love life


How to deal with your partner's family and friends

The project

What do you do when your loyalty to your parents or old friends conflicts with your partner? Or what happens when you believe your partner is putting their mum, dad or best mate before you? How do you cope with interfering in-laws or in-laws who just don’t seem to care?

Willard F Harley, in his book Love Busters (Revell, £7.20), states that if we want lasting love we need to find a way to tackle problems with family or friends together as a couple.

The aim

A great way to strengthen your relationship is to discover mutual solutions for dealing with issues around family and friends. To do this Harley suggests using a ‘Policy of Joint Agreement.’

The theory

When we have conflict in a relationship there are three ways to deal with it.

First, you can use control or abuse and try to force your partner to agree to your way. For example, you tell your partner that your parents are coming to dinner and if he shows any reluctance you criticise him for being selfish and perhaps throw a tantrum.

Or you can try a second approach: independent behaviour. This is where you just do your own thing and don’t consult your partner. You just inform he that you’re having dinner with your parents and that he doesn’t need to join you.

Harley suggests there’s a third approach that works better. You discuss the issue together using radical honesty – saying what you think and feel. Then you come to a decision that’s in the best interest of both of you. This is what he calls a Policy of Joint Agreement. So, with the dinner example, you might decide you will both meet your parents but that you will go out to eat so that there’s no cooking and clearing up to do.

Harley explains the genius behind this approach is that it forces you both to negotiate with each other’s best interests in mind. He claims, ‘if you follow the Policy of Joint Agreement, your family and friends will never have the opportunity to come between you’.

Try it out

Harley recommends talking about potential issues ahead of time because then you will be prepared if and when decisions need to be taken quickly. Discuss any or all of the following questions. Honestly express how you feel about the issue and then try to find a solution that works for both of you.

• What would you do if one of your parents wanted to live with you?

• How long are you happy for friends or family to come and stay?

• When is it ok or not to meet up with your exes?

• What would you do if you wanted to either ask for or lend money to a relative or friend?

• What is your approach to accepting invitations either individually or jointly from friends or family?

• If you have children (or might do in the future) how will you involve the grandparents?

Sarah Abell is a relationships coach and the author of Inside Out – How To Build Authentic Relationships With Everyone In Your Life (Hodder, £8.99). Find out more at To buy her LifeLabs Practical Wisdom online course How to Save Your Relationship, please click here. You can try a free 3-day taster trial first too.

Photograph: plainpicture/Johner

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