Neuropsychologist Shares How To Deal With A Sibling Not Approving Of Your Partner - Exclusive

When we fall in love, we want everyone we know to hear about it. So we start bringing our partners around, introducing them to friends and family, in the hopes that they'll see all the amazing things we see in them. Sometimes everyone is on board, while other times there are some holdouts who aren't too quick to jump on the bandwagon. In many cases, that person tends to be a sibling. In their eyes, after all, no one will ever be worthy of us.

But while it might be briefly endearing that a sibling is not 100% into our partner, it can get old fast. It's one thing for there to be a sort of playful hazing period, but left to fester can end up with a toxic family member causing a boatload of problems. Problems that only have one answer: dealing with it. "It is understandable to feel frustrated or hurt if your sibling does not like your romantic partner," Dr. Sanam Hafeez, Neuropsychologist and Director of Comprehend the Mind, exclusively told "However, it is important to approach the situation with empathy and understanding."

Even if you've yet to have a partner that your sibling doesn't approve of, that doesn't mean you never will. According to 2017 research published in the Journal of Demographic Research, 82% of people have a least one sibling and a 2020 survey by Pew Research Center found that 69% of people are partnered. Takeaway? Toss those percentages in a martini glass and this predicament isn't totally out of the realm of possibility.

Talk to your sibling

While talking to your sibling may seem like a given, it's the way you broach the subject. If you go into a conversation with them, waving your finger and making accusations that don't give them space to state their peace, there will be no resolution. You want to open up the lines of communication in a calm and respectful way so they don't feel attacked.

"Listen to their concerns and try to understand their perspective," said Dr. Hafeez. "Ask them why they do not approve of your partner and give them a chance to express their thoughts and feelings." As much as it may be difficult for you to comprehend why they can't see your partner the way you do, you still want to try your best to wrap your brain around it. "Try to understand the reasons behind your sibling's disapproval," said Dr. Hafeez. "They might have valid concerns or reasons for their opinion. Consider whether there are any red flags or warning signs in your relationship that you may have overlooked. It's important to be open to feedback and self-reflection."

Being open to feedback is going to involve active listening on your part. This includes leaving your bias at the door and really trying to step into your sibling's shoes and see things from their point of view. You need to validate their feelings, shared Dr. Hafeez, even if you don't agree with them. 

Share how their disapproval affects you

According to 2022 research by the Institute for Family Studies, 41% of people report having a very close relationship with their siblings and 37% say they're "somewhat close." Naturally, if you fall into either one of these categories, the fact that your sibling disapproves can be really painful. You can't keep this pain to yourself, you need to tell them how you're feeling about things and how you're being affected. 

"Explain why you value your relationship with your partner and why you believe they are a good fit for you," said Dr. Hafeez. "Share positive aspects of your partner's character and the reasons why you are committed to the relationship ... Clearly communicate your happiness and the positive aspects of your relationship." Although you can't expect your sibling to immediately change their mind and decide your partner is the greatest thing since sliced bread, if they care about you and your happiness, they should at least open their mind a bit to the possibility that this is a good match. 

Set boundaries

If your sibling won't budge on the topic and refuses to let their disapproval go, then you need to set boundaries so you can maintain both relationships. No one should ever be put in the position of having to choose between family and love. "Make it clear that you appreciate their concern, but ultimately, the decision about your romantic partner is yours to make," said Dr. Hafeez. "Communicate that you expect respect for your choices and that you will not tolerate disrespectful or intrusive behavior."

When setting your boundaries, you also want to take into consideration compromising on certain aspects of your relationship with your sibling. It's not as though your sibling and your partner need to spend a lot of time together, so when there are situations where you can hang out with one and not the other, make the effort to do so. "Explore potential compromises or solutions that could help improve the relationship between your sibling and your partner," said Dr. Hafeez. "For example, you could suggest spending time together in a neutral setting or finding common interests to bond over."

Seek support from a third party

Trying to navigate a sibling disapproving of a partner alone can feel isolating. Because of this, it's important to have a support network. Of course, this doesn't mean trying to get a group of people on your side, but rather having one or two close family members or friends you can turn to so you don't feel like you're stranded on an island by yourself. "A neutral third party can help facilitate a constructive discussion," said Dr. Hafeez.

If the issue escalates and it's no longer something that your family can help you with, then seeking a therapist with experience in these types of family dynamics is a good idea. In fact, sibling therapy is an option that exists and may help you and your sibling get to the root of the issue. It may be less about your partner and more about something between you and your sibling that hasn't been resolved. Even the closest sibling relationships aren't without their problems, which is something to keep in mind when trying to figure out why your sibling is so against your partner.

Give the situation time

For some, the partner of their sibling needs to prove that they're actually a good person with good intentions — something that comes with the territory of being a protective sibling. In these situations, it may come down to giving your sibling time to warm up to your partner and hope they eventually see what you see in them.

"Sometimes, it takes time for family members to come around and accept a new partner," said Dr. Hafeez. "Be patient and give your sibling the opportunity to get to know your partner better. Over time, their opinion may change as they see the positive aspects of your relationship."

Realistically, we can't expect everyone we love to love everyone else we love. No matter who you date, there may be a friend or family member who doesn't approve. Just like you can't assume your partner is going to adore every person in your life either. Different people have different personalities and it's normal for there to be clashes. What's most important is that despite personal grievances, people do their best to get along so neither of your relationships has to suffer. As Dr. Hafeez pointed out, taking your sibling's opinion into consideration is essential, but so is your happiness. You shouldn't have to sacrifice one thing for another — and someone who really loves you won't ask you to choose.