Dear Kiki: I’m swayed by my parents criticisms of my partner

In this month’s Dear Kiki, learn how to deal with situations where parents criticism of one’s partner creates rifts in the relationship.
Woman has eyes closed and faces he camera, looking distressed.
Photo credit Gabrielle Henderson

Dear Kiki,

My parents like to criticize my partner in front of me and behind their back. It makes me uncomfortable and actually fuels my resentment towards my partner as well, as I find myself agreeing with my parents! This has caused a rift in our relationship. What should I do?

Can’t there just be love

Acknowledge your complex feelings

Dear Can’t there just be love,

It sounds like you’re stuck between love and a hard place–in this case, love is interchangeable between your parents and your partner. 

It must be difficult to hear your parents criticism of your partner. I can imagine that it almost feels like they’re vocalizing what you’re internalizing about your relationship–and this isn’t helpful when you’re trying to navigate your own relationship right now. 

To hear your parents be so vocal about someone you love can sometimes even feel like a personal attack on you.  

Man grips head with expression of pain.
Photo credit by ahmad gunnaivi

Whether we like to admit it or not, what our parents say mean a lot to us. . . and Asian parents tend to show their love in blunt ways, without carefully considering the impact of their words.  

It can certainly be frustrating to play the mediator role when you have your own issues with both parties. In instances like these, it’s okay to remove yourself from their conflicts and focus on yourself first.

Look inward and self-reflect

Let me start off by asking you a few questions. I encourage you to take some time to self-reflect and answer honestly:

  • Have you taken the time to process your own feelings in this situation?
  • What are the nature of the issues you have with your partner and what would you like to work on?
  • Are you open to sharing your feelings with your parents, regarding their critiques?

In some Asian cultures, we’re taught to internalize our problems and suppress our feelings out of respect for our parents, a value embodied through filial piety. Having arguments is sometimes seen as disrespectful or perceived as “talking back” to our parents. Basically, we’re told to sweep all our problems under the rug. 

It’s easy to let emotions fester because we can’t – or feel like we can’t – tell the other person how we feel. 

Resentment is a hurricane of complex and unpleasant emotions that persists over and over again – whether it’s rage, frustration, disappointment, or sadness towards someone. It can feel paralyzing. Oftentimes, lack of communication is a breeding ground for resentment. 

Woman sits with her back to the camera on a bed, looking outside her window past a balcony to a large misty river.
Photo credit by ashok acharya

If you’re experiencing something similar, I understand. It’s normal to feel a sense of guilt or fear in expressing your feelings, when this is so deeply ingrained in our culture. 

But remember that having arguments is healthy and necessary in every relationship. So don’t be afraid to communicate your feelings to both your parents and partner as it is an integral part of the process.

Communicate with your partner and create boundaries with your parents

Once you’ve taken the time to process your emotions, it’s time to take ownership over your own feelings and needs. 

Identify the issues you have with your partner and isolate your own feelings from your parents. 
When you are talking to your partner, focus on how you feel instead of bringing your parents into the picture. 

You should have your partner’s back even if you are working things out together. Sometimes, it might feel like you’re caught between choosing one or the other but supporting your partner doesn’t mean that you’re being disrespectful to your parents – it’s not all or nothing. 

A partnership is strengthened by reciprocity through open communication. It’s important that your partner is aware of how you’re feeling so you can both support each other on the issues that are affecting your relationship.  

Create boundaries with your parents, and let them know that it is hurtful to hear them criticize your partner, even if there are some things that you agree with. You are adults, and they should respect your space and trust that you can figure it out on your own.

A picture of two hands holding to represent harmony between the marriage despite their parents criticism of their partner.
Photo credit by Crew

Conflict with the ones you love is always difficult to navigate. By taking the time to communicate your feelings to both your parents and your partner, you’re all working together to strengthen the relationships in your life.

Dear Kiki is Cold Tea Collective’s advice column and it is published in the last week of every month. To get advice from Kiki, submit your questions and comments here. Or, subscribe to our newsletter to get Kiki’s advice straight to your inbox on the last Sunday of every month.

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