What Can You Do if Your Partner Puts Their Family First?

You never fully know someone until you see the relationship they have with their family. In fact, some people put their parents before their own partners and even their children. What should you do if you find yourself in this kind of situation?
What Can You Do if Your Partner Puts Their Family First?
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

My partner puts their family first. No matter what the problem or circumstance, they have to ask their parents before making any decisions. It’s been going on for far too long now and I don’t know what to do anymore”. As curious as it may seem, this is a common occurrence and is even the cause of numerous relationship break-ups.

We usually say that when we formalize our relationship with our partner and start a life together, we commit ourselves to them, but not their family. Unfortunately, this is often merely wishful thinking. In fact, we all have a legacy of family figures who, without even needing to be there, determine us.

In other words, it’s often not necessary for the parents or siblings of a partner to be present in the home of the couple. They’re made visible by their comments, reasoning, and invisible mandates that continue to determine the partner. A partner’s ability to distance themselves from these threads is synonymous with maturity and well-being.

When this doesn’t happen and a partner continues to put their family before their own partner or children, great gaps appear in the relationship. Let’s take a look.

Mother and adult daughter representing when my partner puts his family first

What can you do if your partner puts their family first?

It’d be great to have a crystal ball to be able to foresee the future. Because, when you start a relationship with someone, you don’t always notice certain things. Even if you do, you tend to add the golden filter of idealization. In other words, you only see the plus points of your partner.

However, after a while, you may notice that their familiarity with their family suggests an excessive attachment. You might feel completely overwhelmed due to the fact that, for your partner, their parents always come first. Obviously, there are times when this should be the case, but when it’s consistent, alarm bells start ringing.

What can you do under these circumstances? Let’s find out.

1. Assertive communication: my needs, your priorities

When your partner puts their family first, the last thing you should do is keep quiet. Indeed, keeping silent while you wait for them to change will be ineffective and isn’t recommended. You have to use assertive and empathetic communication.

  • State the situation calmly and clearly. Always try to give concrete examples, explaining how you felt in the face of their reactions or behaviors. Avoid issuing accusations. It’s about exposing reality.
  • Encourage an empathetic dialogue to make clear what you need and what you expect from your partner. (I expect you to support me, I want you to be there when I need you, I want to be a priority and not play second fiddle in your life ).
  • It’s highly likely that your partner isn’t even aware of their behavior. For them, putting their family first may be a habit, something they’ve always done. You need to show them that this kind of behavior is harming your relationship.

2. They feel guilty for not spending more time with their family

One of the reasons your partner puts their family first could be because they feel guilty about not spending more time with them. When an individual is excessively attached to their parents, it’s extremely difficult for them to cut the ’emotional umbilical cord’. However, they need to understand that leading their own life, and having a partner who they prioritize wouldn’t mean they love their parents any less.

They need to undertake an exercise of introspection and maturation. They should recognize that the quality of any relationship usually depends on the ability of its members to establish healthy relationships.

The University of Cambridge (UK) conducted research that claims having friends and family support is a good emotional and psychological support. Nevertheless, these social networks are secondary, while the bond of the couple is a priority.

3. Maintaining privacy equals respect: sharing details with family is prohibited

You may find that your partner shares private information with their family. For example, your conversations, problems, discussions, short and long-term goals, etc.  In fact, many of the things you share intimately with them may end up reaching the ears of their parents and siblings.

Almost without you knowing how it happened, people who have nothing to do with your relationship end up giving their opinion and even making decisions for your partner. For them, it may be something habitual because they’ve always done it. However, you mustn’t tolerate it.

When your partner puts their family first, it’s common for intimate and private issues to end up being aired publically. This is a barrier that should never be crossed, a fact which you should make clear.

Sad woman thinking: My partner is lying to me

4. Avoid resentment: set boundaries and expose changes

If your partner maintains really close ties with their family, you might feel like a stranger in your own home as you don’t seem to fit in. This kind of situation isn’t healthy and certainly won’t bring you any happiness.

That said, you must avoid feelings of resentment or hatred toward your in-laws. In fact, doing so will make the situation even worse.

Instead, apply a constructive vision, one with which to try and re-educate your partner in what it means to have a relationship and to maintain a genuine commitment. To do this, you must set boundaries and propose some changes:

  • Respect the fact that family (both theirs and yours) is important but you must both always be each other’s priority. Being a priority means knowing how to love.
  • Solve any problems between the two of you. Involving third parties is prohibited.
  • Agree on and limit family visits. They shouldn’t show up unannounced and assume that you’re always available.
  • You must share any needs, wants, or concerns as a couple before ever involving others.

5. Sooner or later they’ll be forced to choose what they want

At some point, they’ll have to decide. Obviously, they shouldn’t be forced to choose between you and their family, but they have to understand that some things simply aren’t permissible. For example, if you’re going through a bad time, you won’t look kindly on your partner if they choose to spend the whole day with their parents.

Nor is it understandable that every moment of every day they put the needs and desires of their parents in front of you, as a couple. If this is the case, a decision may have to be made because, even if you wanted to, you couldn’t continue to live in this way.

A lack of maturity in emotional matters hurts and an excessive attachment to parents in adulthood causes bonds that are doomed to suffering and failure.

Finally, we must emphasize the importance of assertive communication, empathy, and the establishment of boundaries to overcome this situation. If your partner has difficulties with any of these actions, therapy could help them to communicate better and set boundaries.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.