You, me…and she? Navigating a successful relationship without bumping heads with the other lady in your man’s world isn’t always easy, but it is definitely doable. Black Bridal Bliss founder Bridgette Bartlett Royall shares inside intel from experts and real women like you to make that Memorial Day cookout less awkward.
Admit it: Whether you’re 25 or 65, or single, married, dating or divorced, at some point you’ve felt uncomfortable by something your mate’s sister, ex, homegirl, work wife or even mother has said or done. Sometimes the incident can be easily shaken off; other times it can cause someone to end up with criminal charges. (Continue reading for details on the latter!) Here’s how you can keep your love life intact without creating reality television–worthy drama with your man’s close circle of female family and friends.
This feature originally appeared in the May 2017 Issue of ESSENCE Magazine.
"A mom has a huge influence on a man's romantic relationships. She raised him," explains Deanna Brann, Ph.D., a Knoxville, Tennessee, psychotherapist and the author of Reluctantly Related Revisited: Breaking Free of the Mother-in-Law/Daughter-in-Law Conflict (Ambergris). "Moms don't always know that they need to let go. It's hard." If you're dealing with a particularly controlling mother, Brann offers some solace: "Don't take it personally. This wanting to be in charge is not about your inabilities. That's her personality; she does that with everybody." Shane Perrault, Ph.D., a Greenbelt, Maryland–based psychologist and the author of The Black Manual: Less Drama, More Love—a Single Woman's Guide to Choosing Mr. Right, explains further: "In cases of a single mom, her son is often filling a void. He's the man she trusts the most." Brann adds, "Sit down with him and say, "Look, I understand you're close to your mother. I don't want to take that away from you. How can you also make me feel like I'm important?" Have him be part of the problem solving."
"I have a 15-year-old stepdaughter. When my husband and I met, she was not quite 1, and in the beginning we got along great. I even helped potty-train her," reveals LaShauna Wilkerson* of Los Angeles. But when Wilkerson married her stepdaughter's father three years later, a downward spiral began. Things really took a nosedive after Wilkerson had her first daughter. "My stepdaughter started to resent my relationship with her father," she continues. Fast-forward a few years and the unthinkable happened: "My stepdaughter falsely accused me of hitting her. Her mother contacted the police and I was served papers. I had to go to court numerous times before she admitted it was all a lie. I even lost a lucrative contract due to the felony charges."
Natasha Peterson* of Chicago has personally navigated the ups and downs of her own blended family and gives this sage advice: "It's your job as a parent to help bridge the gap between your child[ren] and your partner. Even though you want your child to love the new person in your life the way you now love that person, it doesn't come that easily. Any relationship takes work, whether it's the one you're in or the one you want someone else to have." Now on the road to recovery, Wilkerson explains that she, her husband and her stepdaughter have benefited from group and individual therapy. "Prayer and counseling are how we have maintained our marriage," she says.
Seeing a man who is still in contact with an ex can get messy quickly for even the strongest of us, especially if a child is involved. "Are they hanging out? Are you invited?" Perrault asks. There should be some parameters. They could also genuinely just be friends. Perrault, who has counseled more than 2,300 couples, adds that making his current companion—not the ex—feel at ease should be paramount for a man in this predicament. If this situation disturbs you, discuss it with your partner.
Seventy percent of business professionals have or have had a work spouse—someone they confide in on the job. That's up from 65 percent in 2010, according to a recent Office Pulse survey. Renee Campbell* of Atlanta knows about this phenomenon all too well. "I do not get along with my husband's business partner," she says. "I think she liked him at one point." But Campbell is honest about the role her hubby plays. "He's charming, so I get it. I remind myself he married me." Get clear with your partner on boundaries so it's apparent when a line is crossed.
Maybe they're college buddies or grew up together in the same hometown. "Da homie" Cheryl has known your boo longer than you and may remind you of this. Or perhaps you think she's too touchy-feely. Your honey, however, may not realize that. Brann suggests flipping the script: "[Ask,] "If my friend John was doing the same thing to me as Cheryl does, would you be okay with that?" If you help him see how it looks on the reverse side, he can see your point of view."
She was in your wedding and babysits your toddlers at the drop of a dime. She looks up to you, especially since you give her advice on everything from men to money. This is the relationship you thought you would have with your husband's sister, but in actuality the two of you can barely stand each other. You even find it difficult to sit across from her at Thanksgiving dinner. News flash! You two simply might not click right now and perhaps you never will. She's not obli-gated to be your BFF. Being a grown-up means getting along with difficult people and humbling yourself to admit you may not deserve a Sister-in-Law of the Year Award either. But do your relationship a favor—avoid complaining about her to him. Making your significant other choose between his sister and you will always make you appear insensitive. "That resentment is ultimately going to boomerang back to you. Try to make peace," advises Perrault.