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Interracial and Interfaith Relationships: 6 Tips to Consider When Telling Your South Asian Parents About Your Partner

Updated: Mar 27


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Photo by Cody Engel on Unsplash

***Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and does not provide medical, legal, or health advice and is not a substitute for mental health services


You may be in a serious relationship with your partner and feel happy, fulfilled, and in love. You want to tell the world about your partner but there’s something that’s holding you back: the fear of telling your parents.


This fear may arise if you grew up in a South Asian household where you are expected to follow certain traditional values, such as marrying a person of the same race, ethnicity, culture, religion, or spirituality.


If your partner differs in one or more of these areas – or if there are other factors that you feel your parents may not appreciate, such as an alternative educational or career path, a gap between socio-economic statuses, or other nuances – then you may be terrified about what will happen when you tell your parents about your relationship and what this may mean for your connection with them – and the stability of the relationship you have with your partner.


Read on for some tips from a South Asian therapist about how to navigate this sensitive and challenging situation and conversation.


1. Validate your fears and worries


Your fears and worries are completely understandable based on the type of dynamic you have with your parents and your understanding of how they may react to this news.


Here are some examples of concerns that may cross your mind:


  • A lack of acceptance of your partner Your parents may disapprove of your partner and may try to encourage or, in extreme cases – force you – to end your relationship. This may be even more likely if you are living with your parents, are unable to move out for financial or other reasons, and feel that you need to follow the household rules and expectations to co-exist in harmony.


  • Being forced into an arranged marriage You may be worried that your parents may try to arrange a marriage between you and someone they choose within their South Asian community as they want you to marry someone who follows the same cultural, religious/spiritual, and family values.


  • Concern about your partner’s and their parents’ feelings You may be concerned about how your partner and your partner’s parents will react if your parents are unaccepting. You may fear that your partner may leave due to the significant stress they are under regarding the situation with your parents. Or, you may worry that your partner’s parents will hesitate to support the relationship as a way of protecting your partner.


  • Worry about being disowned or ostracized You might fear that your parents will cut you out of their lives and/or that you may be shunned and isolated from your South Asian community and social network due to general disapproval of your relationship decision. You may also feel guilt and shame regarding the impact of your relationship disclosure on your parents’ own relationship within their community and the possibility that others may withdraw from them as well.


All of these fears are valid as some of these issues may come to light after you tell your parents about your partner.


As scary as this is, it’s also important to think about the other side: the possible positives that may come from opening up to your parents. Let’s explore this next.


2. Think about the potential gains


Some of the benefits of coming forward about your relationship may include:


  • Relief from no longer keeping this secret from your parents There may be a sense of freedom as you don’t have to hide your relationship anymore.


  • Being able to live authentically You can now live your life in a way that is true to you.

  • Feeling more secure in your relationship with your partner Your union now has the chance to grow and flourish as your relationship is now fully out in the open.


  • Being with a person you have chosen for yourself Your parents may have previously thought you were single and you could have been dealing with constant requests to be set up with someone that they know or think would be a good match for you. With the news that you are now seeing your partner, these requests will hopefully no longer come your way and the related stress may disappear.

3. Consider your needs as a priority


In South Asian culture, people-pleasing and being the “perfect” child to your parents is often something that many adult children strive for. This cultural value can make it stressful for you to imagine how things might change in your family dynamics once you speak up about your relationship. You may feel stuck and go back and forth in your mind about whether or not to tell your parents.


This internal conflict is natural. Both feelings are real and deserve to be reflected on. However, it’s important to ensure that the need to live your own life and that you deserve to be happy is being given an equal amount of mental space so that your fear of disappointing your parents doesn’t completely take over your decision-making process.


Remember: you aren’t a “bad" child to your parents and you aren't doing anything wrong by being in a loving relationship with your partner. Reflect on the fact that you can make your own choices and decisions - even if your parents don’t agree with them and if they go against your parents' expectations.


Try to lean on your desire for joy and fulfillment in your life and use it as momentum to open up to your parents about your relationship. We'll explore having the conversation as the next step.


4. Prepare for the conversation


With all of your anxiety and stress, it may be hard for you to think straight about the message you want to share with your parents during this pivotal moment.


In case it is helpful for you, write down some key talking points for reference. This can allow you to feel more organized in your thought process, particularly if you are feeling overwhelmed.


Be selective about the timing  of your conversation. Pick an ideal time - not in the evening before bed, in the morning before work, or when you or your parents are pre-occupied with other tasks, responsibilities, or events. Make sure you can talk to them without interruption.


As you think about where you are going to have this conversation, choose an environment where will feel most at ease. You may feel safe to have the conversation in the family home. Or, you may feel it's best to have it in a more neutral environment – such as a busy neighbourhood park or a coffee shop – especially if you are concerned that the conversation could go badly. This is most important if you are concerned about your personal safety. If this is the case, please review the last tip below.


5. Have a back up plan


Your safety is number one. If you are concerned about the potential of being physically harmed by your family following your relationship disclosure, which can be a real risk for some, please keep the points below in mind:


  • Call 911 or your local emergency services if you need urgent help or feel at risk in any way

  • Use crisis lines in your region such as the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741 to be connected to a volunteer crisis counsellor 24/7 or the Distress Centres Of Greater Toronto by calling 416-408-4357 if you need urgent emotional support

  • Figure out a safe place to stay if needed: a trusted family member’s house who will protect your privacy, your partner’s home, a friend’s home, a hotel, or another solution you have in mind if it isn't safe to stay at your family’s home

  • Ask your partner or a trusted family member or friend to text or call you at a set time on the day you plan to have the conversation with your parents and use a code word if needed to signal that you need them to call emergency services on your behalf

6. Take small steps to move forward with your life


Once you have told your parents, you will be bracing for their reaction and will be facing a new reality now that your news is out in the open.


Observe how your parents treat you in the weeks and months that follow. Are they still communicating with you and trying to accept your relationship? Are they cold and distant? Do you feel that they are trying to create a wedge between you and the rest of your family or community? Or are they encouraging others to be open-minded? Reflect on how you want to navigate your relationship with your parents based on how they are treating you at this point in time.


Take steps to strengthen your relationship with your partner now that your relationship status is public knowledge. Process the outcome of your conversation with your parents with your partner and give them space to adjust to the situation as well.


Your partner may need time to come to terms with your parents' reactions and they may also be dealing with their own parents’ reactions, especially if they are having similar challenges. Be there for and support each other as you try your best to move forward together.


Recognize that this next phase will be hard and you will go through natural ups and downs. Try to ride the wave and know that coming forward with your relationship is life-changing in many ways but that it will hopefully make an overall positive difference in your quality of life and peace of mind in the future.


Connect with other social supports as needed – those family members who you trust that will support you and your close friends.


Seek out professional assistance if you need extra help. Know that you don’t have to go through this process on your own and that there are mental health providers who can support you in a culturally-sensitive way.


Wishing you well on your mental health journey.

 


Davina Tiwari  MSW, RSW, CSFT

Registered Social Worker and Certified Solution Focused Therapist



If you are an adult in Ontario or Alberta seeking online therapy and would like to request a free 15 minute phone consultation, please Book An Appointment.

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