My dad appears to have a long-standing misconception about my partner of nearly 10 years. He seems to believe she does very little to contribute, either in terms of labour or financially. Neither of which are true and it comes across as though he thinks she's taking advantage of me. She's done a lot for us, which he hasn't necessarily seen, but then there's no onus on us to be fully transparent about our lives. Instead, he seems to give neither of us the benefit of the doubt; as well as my partner, who is directly affected, I too feel undermined by this point.

These misconceptions are exacerbated during the harder times of our relationship, to the point that he can jump to conclusions. As you can imagine, these extrapolated opinions on false premises -- if they're based on anything! -- can not only be wildly inaccurate, but also offensive and insulting. I will stand up for my partner, but she suffers because of this, which isn't fair. It puts us off from seeing my parents and my partner, who didn't communicate with him much in the past, is (not unreasonably) increasingly reluctant to do so.

For example: Last summer, they kindly let us stay with them temporarily because we were having problems with our apartment. I had to work from their home during this period. However, in a short amount of time, this was met with:

What if you lost "working from home"? What would she do then as regards things outside her control like the building work? She would have to live with it.

He's making assumptions here about my partner's ability -- or his presumed lack thereof -- to deal with issues beyond her control and that I somehow facilitate this. This was predicated on nothing, which he worked himself up into, and isn't true. I set the record straight, but it's caused damage in the meantime. Moreover, this correction was never acknowledged and it needed to be repeated in a separate incident this year.

This doesn't happen regularly, but frankly once would be enough. I also believe my dad is not being intentionally hostile, nor do I think he dislikes my partner. I think he's trying to help/advise me -- whether solicited, or otherwise -- but doing so in a very overbearing and inconsiderate way. When I have spoken up against his accusations, he does back down. However, given the recurrence of his attitude, it leads us both to believe there must be some deep rooted misconception.

We are living apart from my parents, so there's no immediate "threat" of this happening. Also, I have just begun to open a dialogue with my mum -- who is more rational -- to try to set the record straight and, I hope, get to the bottom of things. I'm not good with confrontation and I obviously don't want to burn bridges with my parents. Is there anything else you can suggest we can try to redress this behaviour?

  • 2
    Why do you feel a need to have these discussions? Tell your father you don't wish to discuss your relationship, and leave it at that.
    – user91988
    May 26 '20 at 17:17
  • 1
    Can you give some examples of what he says or does to give you the impression of these misconceptions?
    – AsheraH
    May 26 '20 at 17:18
  • @AsheraH I've added an example. May 26 '20 at 18:21
  • @user91988 The spontaneity of my dad's responses make this frustrating and, potentially, anxiety-inducing. It shouldn't get to this point in the first place. May 26 '20 at 18:21

In my experience it's best to confront people with their own words and make them realize how hurtful they are. Only then can your effectively correct their misconception that lead to those words.

In my case both of my parents seem to agree with xenophobic right-wing slogans without even realizing how xenophobic and degrading they are. In these situations I rephrase what they just said as a question, for example "Why should immigrants not receive the same child benefit as native citizens?"

This immerses the other person in their current mindset and often reveals what they really think, for example "First the men come here to work, and before you realize it they get the whole family into the country just to leech social benefits." So it's not about child benefit, it's about women and children immigrating. Further questions can reveal more of the other person's mindset and misconceptions.

I find it extremely important not to confront or attack the other person with these questions. You must ask in a way that is intended to reveal information, not to change the mind of the other person. Questions like

How can you think that?
Where did you get that from?
Why do you belive those stupid things?

are all attacks on the other person's belief or intellect. They will be met with resistance and instead of convincing the person of a different opinion they'll probably stop listening to you and block any future attempts to discuss matters in a civilized way.

In your example, I would honestly ask your dad in an inquiring tone to explain what he meant.

What do you mean with "things outside her control"? How do you expect her to react if that happens? Why do you think she would have a problem "just living" with that?

Maybe he expects her to explode, get a divorce and leave you alone? Maybe he just doesn't like her and actually hopes she'd divorce you? Maybe he expects her to lose her job, become lazy and stay at home, relying on your income alone? I don't know and as long as you don't know either you cannot correct his misconception.

If you found the cause of the misconception, you can focus on correcting the root instead of convincing them of a different conclusion that might not be in accordance with their root beliefs.

Another problem that I observed mostly in elderly men is that they are either honestly blindly unaware of how their words hurt people around them or they play naive and wash their hands in innocence by saying things like

But I just said [whatever hurtful thing]. I didn't mean anything bad with it. or
This is just my opinion / just the truth. (implying you cannot possibly refute what they said).

I (and all of my friends / family) find it extremely difficult to talk with them about the way they hurt people. In fact just having small talk with them often escalates into barely concealed insults so quickly no-one even wants to invite them to family gatherings anymore.

The approach I described above is utterly useless against those people. The only thing that ever even remotely worked for me was to blatantly call them out on their insults.

(Me) Could you please stop speaking in such a hurtful way?
(Them) I didn't mean to insult anyone, I was just stating the fact.
(Me) Then I'm stating the fact that I feel insulted and that I want you to stop speaking that way. It doesn't matter what you meant, the way you said that is very hurtful to me.

I might add that this lead to the offender leaving the family gathering in a huff, leaving behind a very uncomfortable mood. Some fights you just cannot win.

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