Dear Therapist, I came out a few years ago to my whole family, and everyone was more or less accepting and supportive. My partner and I come to all family gatherings together as a couple and everyone knows we’re planning on marrying someday, but my aunt and uncle continue to call my partner my “friend” when referring to her. They act fine with it other than that detail, and I know I should just let it go, but I can’t help but be deeply hurt that they can’t refer to her as my partner/ girlfriend. Is it fair to be upset? How should I handle this?
Frame therapist, Kate Nichols, weighs in...
Of course it’s fair to be upset. Feelings aren’t right or wrong, they just are. Your feelings are totally valid. If you’re upset that’s a signal to you that a boundary hasn’t been respected, that something important to you feels threatened. Yes, you can recognize that this has everything to do with them and their own hang-ups and limitations, and it probably really isn’t personal. That still doesn’t make it okay. So, how should you handle this?
You could let it go, but I think you’ve got some options you can explore first. You could speak with your aunt and uncle yourself. Maybe saying something like “I noticed you refer to my girlfriend as my friend. I just want to make sure you’re aware we’re in a committed, romantic relationship and she’s not just my friend. It makes me feel like you don’t respect our relationship or take it seriously when you refer to her as my friend”.
If this feels too challenging or unsafe, you can outsource this emotional labor. You mentioned that most of your family has been supportive. Maybe you could ask another one of your more supportive family members to address the issue with them. This way your feelings are being addressed but without the emotional labor falling solely on your shoulders.
Sometimes the best we can do is express our needs/wants/feelings and communicate what actions would help, and hope that this leads to change or at least opens up a dialogue. If they’re not receptive, it might be time to consider placing some boundaries around the relationship to do what’s best for yourself.
About the author: Kate Nichols, LCSW is a therapist in private practice virtually in New Jersey. She specializes in working with millennial women who want to break their people pleasing patterns and show up boldly in their lives and the world. To learn more about Kate or view more of her work, check out her Frame profile.
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