Coping With Your Partner's Family When You Have BPD

A family therapy session

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Joining someone’s family as a result of a serious long-term relationship is not always easy. You choose your partner, not his or her family, but you are still connected to his family after marriage whether you like it or not.

Your spouse will have expectations on the continued involvement of each family member which can add pressure to your relationship. This alone can trigger uncomfortable feelings for anyone, but if you have borderline personality disorder, you may have the added difficulty of struggling to relate to these new people.

It can be frustrating for you when her partner wants to have close relationships with his family members, especially if you find out your spouse was mistreated by them in the past. You may believe that your partner is making excuses and not seeing the family in a true light.

You may also feel tense if you feel that your partner's family rejects or judges you. These feelings of rejection may result from any number of things, including the belief that they dislike you, doubt your competency or question your parenting decisions and abilities.

No matter how hard you may wish otherwise, your in-laws aren't going anywhere.

It's important for the sake of your own health and the health of your marriage that you learn some coping skills to better handle your partner's family.

Coping With the In-Laws 

When you feel that your in-laws are ignoring you or are rude, it can be tempting to dwell on your feelings or lash out while hurting. It's important to take a step back to really think through the person's actions and your reaction before responding to avoid misunderstandings and unnecessarily hurt feelings. Impulsive reactions will just come out in anger and the real issues will not be heard or addressed.

While it can be tough to make yourself take a break in these situations, here are seven tips for handling your emotions and coping: 

  1. Breathe: At the first sign of hurt feelings, take several slow, deep breaths. Concentrate on your breathing only, consciously trying to blow out some of your emotional reaction and focusing on your breaths instead. 
  2. Get Some Distance: If it is at all possible, get away from the offending person. You can say you need to run an errand, take a walk or simply step into the restroom for a few minutes. Getting away from the offending person can often help de-escalate the situation and allow you to gain perspective before you lash out. 
  3. Remember Your In-Laws Are Your Partner's Family: Focusing on the relationship between your partner and the person that hurt you will help keep your reactions in check. While your spouse's uncle may be incredibly annoying, remembering that he was one who helped your partner pay for his first car may help you see him in a better light. 
  4. Write It Down: Use a private journal to write down what happened and what you are feeling. Use this as a means of expressing your hurt without having to censor your thoughts. 
  5. Identify Your Feelings: Using what you have written, identify some feeling statements or clarify what you are experiencing and how you need to react.
  6. Talk About Your Feelings With Your Partner
    1. Your partner is the reason that you are having a relationship with your in-laws so talking and sharing with your spouse is an important step in coping with your feelings. 
  7. Identify Your Purpose: Before any issues are addressed, it is important to know what your purpose is before you react. What do you want the end result to be? Yelling at the annoying in-law may feel satisfying at the moment, but it may mean a very awkward holiday afterward. By focusing on what you want, such as a peaceful holiday dinner, you can better handle your reactions. Sometimes not reacting is the best thing you can do to reach your goal. 

In addition to talking to your partner, it is a good idea to honestly discuss what happened and how you feel during regular sessions with your therapist. A therapist who specializes in BPD can assist you in determining appropriate and effective methods of communicating with those who are causing you pain. A good therapist can arm you with the skills to relate to people that easily trigger hurt feelings.

By Erin Johnston, LCSW
Erin Johnston, LCSW is a therapist, counselor, coach, and mediator with a private practice in Chicago, Illinois.