Often when we meet someone new and fall madly and deeply in love, we cannot wait to introduce the person to our friends and family. Obviously if we think they are the best thing since sliced bread, everyone else is going to love them just as much – right? Not always. Sometimes, no matter how great we think a person is, our friends and family, for one reason or another, disagree. When this happens, the lack of support for our relationship can jeopardize not only our relationship, but also our health.
So what should you do if your friends and family are disapproving of your current relationship? You have a few options. First, you could try to change their minds. Think of Gaylord Focker in Meet the Parents – the poor guy tried very hard to win the “approval” and “affection” of his beloved’s father. In fact, according to one study,1 many couples do engage in “influencing behaviours,” whereby they attempt to convince their social network that they should be more supportive of their romantic relationship. Some of the most commonly reported methods were emphasizing their partner’s good points, telling their parents about how their partner acts, and even sharing the details of their dates (although no indication was given concerning how much detail participants provided to their parents on this last point). Despite the fact that research has found that people do try to influence the opinions of their social networks concerning their relationships, no research has been done to determine whether these methods are actually successful. Additionally, for people in more marginalized relationships, such as same-sex, age-discrepant or interracial relationships,2 changing social network members’ opinions may be more difficult. If the reason that support for the relationship is being withheld is due to the type of relationship, this lack of support for the relationship may be more likely the result of a deeply rooted prejudice rather than an objective opinion of the actual qualities of the specific relationship in question.
Second, you may want to consider listening to the opinions of your friends and family, as sometimes ‘outsiders’ have more accurate predictions of long-term relationship outcomes.3 It can be difficult to hear negative things about our relationship or our loved one, but sometimes it can save an awful lot of heartache. Simply listening to the opinions of your friends and family also may give them a greater sense of validation, which may be all that they are seeking.
Finally, if you can’t change their minds and you disagree with their opinions (or their opinions are based in prejudice), then try to surround yourself with people who are supportive of your relationship. The more you perceive your relationship to be supported, the more likely you are to experience positive relationship AND health outcomes, so surround yourself with the lovers, not the haters. This seems to be a particularly successful method for individuals in marginalized relationships, such as same-sex couples who are more likely to meet with disapproval from their social network members.4 Same-sex couples have been found to rely more on the support from their friends and their “chosen family,” in an attempt (conscious or unconscious) to surround themselves with people who are supportive of their relationship, and it appears that the strategy works.5 As of yet, though, there is no magic number concerning exactly how many supportive people you need in your corner or whether the support from some, can outweigh the lack of support from others. However, in general, relationships that report higher levels of perceived social support are also more likely to report long-lasting satisfaction, love, trust, and positive mental and physical health outcomes.6 So out with the naysayers and in with the cheerleaders!
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1Leslie, L.A., Huston, T.L. & Johnson, M.P. (1986). Parental reactions to dating relationships: Do they make a difference? Journal of Marriage and the Family, 48(1). doi: 10.2307/352228
2Lehmiller, J.J. & Agnew, C.R. (2006). Marginalized relationships: The impact of social disapproval on romantic relationship commitment. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32(1), 40-51. doi: 10.1177/0146167205278710
3MacDonald, T. (1999). Assessing the accuracy of predictions about dating relationships: How and why do lovers’ predictions differ from those made by observers? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25(11), 1417-1429.
4Blair, K.L. & Holmberg, D. (2008). Perceived social network support and well-being in same-sex versus mixed-sex romantic relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 25(5), 769-791.
5Blair, K.L. (2013). The opinions of parents vs. friends in the dating decisions of LGBTQ individuals. Psychology, Community & Health, 2(2), 179. doi: 10.5964/pch.v2i2.70
6Blair, K.L. (2012). Perceived social support for relationships as a predictor of relationship well-being and mental and physical health in same-sex and mixed-sex relationships: A longitudinal investigation. (Doctoral Dissertation). Retrieved from Canadian Theses, http://qspace.library.queensu.ca.proxy.queensu.ca/handle/1974/7220
Dr. Blair’s research focuses on the connections between romantic relationships and health, social approval for romantic relationships, and LGBTQ psychology. Her latest research is focusing on the potential health benefits (and costs) of public displays of affection (PDAs) in both mixed-sex and same-sex relationships. Do PDAs provide health boosting moments of support for all couples, or might stigmatized couples experience PDAs as a source of stress and discomfort? As part of this line of research, a study on the psychophysiology of prejudice is being crowdfunded on the science funding site, Microryza. Dr. Blair also offers consulting services for online research development and implementation.