If you’re in a serious relationship, chances are you’ll be spending some time with your boyfriend’s or girlfriend’s family during the upcoming holidays. You’ll see how they interact with their parents, siblings and grandparents in their “natural habitat,” so to speak.
This is a valuable opportunity that shouldn’t be wasted. Why? Because you can learn a lot about your significant other by watching how they treat their family.
Here are some good things, some bad things and some ugly things to watch out for when you spend time with your date’s family in the coming weeks.
Back when I was dating my wife, I was invited to join her on a short family vacation to visit her grandparents. Her younger sister was upset that I tagged along. She hadn’t seen her older sister since she’d left for college, and I was consuming all her sister’s time. Eventually, she got frustrated and snapped.
As uncomfortable as I felt, I’m glad it happened because I saw how my girlfriend handled conflict with her family. She maintained her composure despite being upset, and she apologized to her sister. We’d never fought before, so I learned my girlfriend tends to remain calm when frustrated, and tries to restore peace.
When we finally arrived at her grandparents’ house, I learned even more about my girlfriend. She and her sisters were amazing servant leaders, cleaning dishes, mopping and vacuuming the floor, and putting me to work in the yard. I learned that my girlfriend has a servant’s heart and won’t hesitate to help others.
I learned a lot about my girlfriend by watching how she treated her family. Now that we’re married, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve benefited from the good traits she exhibited throughout that trip.
Looking back, I often wonder what I would’ve done if my girlfriend had behaved differently.
- What would I have thought if she’d lost her temper and yelled at her younger sister?
- What would I have done if she’d apologized to me for how her sister reacted rather than apologizing to her sister?
- How would I have reacted if she just treated her grandparents’ place like a hotel instead of helping them with chores around the house?
I honestly don’t think I would’ve noticed the bad things. I was smitten. I wasn’t looking for any faults in my girlfriend. I was too busy falling in love.
During one-on-one dates, it’s easy to put on a façade and act a part. But when you’re around family, you let your guard down and act yourself, getting annoyed and frustrated at times.
In college, I joined a friend and her family Christmas shopping. She and I weren’t dating at the time, but we had talked about it. She grumbled about small things the whole afternoon and argued constantly with her mom. I was shocked by the way she acted, and that insight was enough to make me think twice about pursuing a deeper relationship.
Does your boyfriend or girlfriend disrespect his or her parents or siblings? Are they expecting to be served or do they serve others? Do they talk openly about their feelings with family members or do they keep them bottled up inside? Are they chronic complainers?
If he or she has unhealthy relational patterns, their family will eventually bring it to the surface. You just have to be ready to admit it’s bad when you see it.
How they treat their family will inevitably translate to how they treat you. It may take time, but it will happen. Don’t ignore the bad things when they pop up. Consider the way they treat their family and ask yourself what you would do if they treated you that way.
The family environments we grow up in shape who we are as adults, whether we like it or not.
When people grow up amid divorce or domestic violence, it can be traumatic and can influence their future relationships. Some girls struggle to trust people because of their mom’s infidelity. Some guys don’t know how to argue without being physical because of the bad example their dad set.
People who grow up in dysfunctional families don’t always realize it, either. Because it’s the only environment they’ve ever known, they don’t know any better. Therefore, you can be shocked by your boyfriend or girlfriend’s behavior when they’re around their family. You might discover an ugly side of them you’ve never seen before.
These are hard situations to navigate because you see the dysfunction first-hand, and may worry that your family will end up the same way if you get married. It’s good to be cautious, but don’t be too quick to judge them by the sins of their parents. God doesn’t (Ezekiel 18:20) and we shouldn’t, either.
Keep an eye open for red flags and warning signs as your boyfriend or girlfriend interacts with their family. You’ll discover the good, the bad and the ugly.
When you see something bad or ugly, it doesn’t have to be a deal breaker. Pray about it. Find a humble way to bring it up and talk through it together or with a pastor, mentor or counselor. How your date responds to these conversations is telling.
Most importantly, never lose sight of God’s grace. We all have a good, a bad and an ugly side that puts a strain on our relationships. Apart from God’s grace and the fruits of the Spirit, our relationships will always have very little wiggle room for error and reconciliation. So keep God’s love central and you’ll allow room for growth and forgiveness.
Copyright 2018 Matt Stickel. All rights reserved.