Sharing a close bond with your family can be one of the greatest parts of your life. And seeing your partner have closeness with their family is often a good indicator about how your future family might operate. Still, can someone be too close with their family… even obsessed? It is one thing to be family oriented, but if your partner is family obsessed it can actually turn into a wedge in your relationship.
Having a strong attachment to your family can enrich your life in lots of ways. But when does a healthy familial bond turn into a family obsession? And can it ruin your relationship? There is a difference between being family oriented and family obsessed.
If your partner can’t make a decision without their family, takes their family member’s side over yours when they get involved, and you aren’t allowed to move away – things are definitely in obsession territory. Let’s talk about how to spot problematic familial relationship and how to make sure it doesn’t impact your romantic relationship (hint: couples counseling can help!).
How to Spot Family Obsession
No two family relationships are the same, but here are some common things to look for if you think you or your partner are too obsessed with their parents, siblings, and other members of their family of origin.
- Their family members interfere in your relationship
Is it hard to have a disagreement with your partner because they always call their mom for advice, and then she starts calling you or pressuring you to change your behavior? Or maybe the second your partner tells his siblings you are thinking about moving in together, getting a joint bank account, or making other relationship decisions the family is way too involved. These are red flags.
- Your partner doesn’t take your side
People who have a partner who is totally family obsessed usually feel like there is a tug of war… and they’re always using. Does your partner never have your back in any dispute because he can’t hurt his family’s feelings? This could be another sign of unhealthy boundaries with family.
- The family feels jealous of your place
Now that your partner is cuffed up, it’s normal for any family to need some time to get to know you and adjust to the time. But does your partner’s parent feel really jealous, or like you’re “taking their place?” Jealousy is not a good emotion coming from family. Even worse, if your partner doesn’t shut it down, you are left feeling abandoned and awkward.
- Your partner is not fully present
Every time you’re out, your partner is in the group chat. Feeling like your partner isn’t present is always super frustrating. Especially when it’s because they have to fill their fam in on their big promotion before they’ve even told you. This makes it hard for you to feel like a priority to your partner and can create a secure attachment road block.
How to Change Obsessive Family Habits
Ok, so your partner (or you) are too enmeshed with outside family. If you or your partner is having a hard time individualizing from your family or origin, you need to take steps to protect your romantic relationship. With ongoing outside interference, your relationship is not on the track to succeed. Here are four steps we recommend (all of which counseling in San Diego can help with!)
- Set Boundaries
In order to save your relationship, you and your partner need to establish new boundaries around family. For instance, maybe you decide you’re not allowed to call your parents in the middle of an argument with your partner to vent. Or perhaps you decide to spend every other holiday with other friends and family. A therapist can help you draw healthy boundaries that both you and your partner are comfortable with – even if extended family is not.
- Build a Secure Attachment
The partner who is devoting too much time to their family could be fracturing the security of the bond in the relationship. You need to know that even though your partner loves their parents, siblings, and extended family – they will still have your back and say “no” when needed. This is another area where therapy can help you talk out ways to become better bonded and move away from dependency on outside family.
- Create New Habits
Next it’s time to put your new ideas about secure attachment and boundaries in place. There must be follow through. Both parties must learn when to draw the line with families and tell them, “No, we’re not coming over this weekend, we’re going on a couple’s getaway” or “Sorry, we can’t video chat tonight, we’re doing date night.”
- Expect Backlash from Family
Drawing new boundaries may cause backlash. The family might complain they are being cut out of your partner’s life or try to guilt you into returning to “the way we used to do things.” Approach your new boundaries as a couples. You should be a united front, which will only bring you closer as you figure out a way to have a more appropriate relationship with outside family.
Are you or your partner having a hard time detaching from your family? Call Estes Therapy today to see if our couples counseling can help you build healthier boundaries and maintain a solid relationship while staying in touch with your fam.
About Jennine Estes, MFT
Think of me as your relationship consultant, I'm your neutral third party that can help you untangle the emotions and help you figure out what's really going on. I am a Marriage and Family Therapist in San Diego, CA. Certified in Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples. Supervisor. I write relationship and self growth advice for my column Relationships in the Raw. Creator of #BeingLOVEDIs campaign. MFC#47653