To Care: The Loyalty Line
In episode 19 of season 6 of The Simpsons, Lisa is engaged to Hugh Parkfield, a dashingly mundane character built on the loveable Hugh Grant. It is set in the future, and this allows the writers even more scope for hilarity, with both Bart and Homer engaging in a series of ill-fated attempts to endear themselves and their home country to Hugh before the wedding. It culminates in Hugh's refusal to wear Homer's pig cufflinks, which prompts a disappointed Lisa to confront him. In the argument that ensues, Hugh insults her family, saying "you're like a flower that grew out of a pot of dirt", before justifying this with "You complain about them more than anyone!". Lisa then utters the words that perfectly describe todays topic, "Maybe, but I still love them, and I don't think you understand that".
When you're dealing with a significant other who isn't impressed with how their family is acting, the emotional intelligence required to navigate the situation is not to be underestimated. There are so many different factors at play, so many different scenarios, and so little time to act, that a split second decision can result in an abrupt and messy ending of a relationship. Take, for example, a new girlfriend. You've only been dating 2 weeks, yet she is regularly coming to you complaining about her mother's failure to cut the umbilical chord and let her daughter act in an adult way. At first it is easy to appease the girl. Just nod along sympathetically as she delivers her spiel, and at the end reinforce everything she said by saying "I agree entirely!". No harm done. But suppose you finally meet her mother, and witness these activities first hand. Your girlfriend is 21 years old, yet she doesn't know how to use an iron because her mum always does it for her. She still can't drive, cause her mum insists on driving her to and from engagements and work. You are shocked when, faced with the simple task of making you breakfast, vegemite on toast, she delegates this to her mother, because she hasn't ever needed to use the toaster before and is afraid she will burn the toast.
It's snap decision time. First option? Run. But she is ridiculously good looking and, somehow, an absolute demon in the sack. Ok, so we won't run. But your next decision could make or break not only your relationship, but your reputation. If you comment on what is clearly the status quo, without being prompted by your partner, you run the risk of demeaning her, implying that she is being baby'ed by her mother and allowing it to happen. Do you think she will react well to this, or percieve it as a threat to her independence as a human?
This is just one tiny example. The most common example is when a partner is constantly complaining about a loved one, for whatever reason. The simple, appropriate response is always to nod along, and only ever re-state things they have said. If your boyfriends brother is always stealing his possessions, or hogging the TV, or acting inappropriately, parrot those things back at him. Dangerous territory is when you begin to breach new ground yourself. You don't want to be making threats, like "if he does that again I will slap him in the face!", or saying "Yeah when I was over the other day he was acting like such a douche, he's so lazy what a waster". It's ok for your boyfriend to whinge about his own brother, that's his kin, he's lived with him his entire life. It isn't ok for you, someone who has only known him for a tiny portion of it, to begin unloading.
Without bloating this post too dramatically, there is a solution to the aforementioned tightrope that, whilst not bulletproof, should ensure you avoid the pitfalls of these dangerous situations. Firstly, never initiate a slagging off. I don't care if your partners Dad drove you so slowly to the restaurant you missed your entree, or their mum was watching Toddler's In Tiara's all day and you missed your favourite football team, or even if their brother brought a girl round and all you could hear all night was them having sex, completely ruining any chance of your bedroom pursuits. Don't bring it up. Wait for your partner to do the dirty work, then jump in with them. You don't want to appear ungrateful or self-centred, and you especially don't want to come across as malicious or unfairly aggressive. Nothing renders a personality more repugnant than an unprovoked attack on a family member.
Secondly, never be too critical, no matter how passionate your partner is about the situation. When it comes to family, we all suffer from the opposite of rose-tinted spectacles, whatever they are. We tend to blow things way out of proportion. A simple misunderstanding over dinner can become as huge as Kanye's head, but that doesn't mean you have to agree with everything your partner says. Be a voice of reason rather than nodding and agreeing. If they (and they probably will) recognise they are being completely unreasonable, all of a sudden they think you were too. We tend to be very defensive of our loved ones, even if we don't show it, and once we think someone is being unfair it's very difficult to regain trust in that person. Best bet is to listen to their argument, their gripe, and provide a sympathetic yet rational ear. Agree with them, but try to present the other side of the story too, in as gentle a way as possible. That way you cover your bases when they calm down.
Family is the most important part of many people's lives. An attack on family is attack on you.
As I said, there are so many more situations, infinite possibilities for you to fuck up and ruin a relationship. I am, of course, no expert, but as is the way with these things that makes me the perfect person to write about it. None of us are experts, and if this is something that has never crossed your radar before then hopefully by drawing attention to it you can act with more awareness in the future, and enjoy happier relationships and a happier reputation!