Dear Richard Madeley: 'My girlfriend’s mother can’t look me in the eye'

Dear Richard Madeley: 'My girlfriend’s mother can’t look me in the eye'
Dear Richard Madeley: 'My girlfriend’s mother can’t look me in the eye' Credit: RII SCHROER/kaja merle for the telegraph

Dear Richard

My girlfriend’s mother can’t look me in the eye I have been with my lovely girlfriend for three years and we are extremely happy. Unfortunately whenever I visit her parents’ house, there is always an air of hostility from her mother who, on a good day will say hello, and on a bad day will say nothing at all.

I’ve wondered for a while what makes her so uncomfortable; I’d like to think I’m just a normal kind and caring 25 year-old with a decent education and a good career, although I think she struggles to accept that her daughter is in a relationship with a girl.

What can I do to ease the tension and make her more comfortable towards me since three years have gone by and nothing has improved?

Sophie, via email

Dear Sophie

Sherlock Holmes said: “Once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

I don’t think we need to work too hard at the process of elimination here, do we? You make this woman’s daughter happy. Your relationship has gone from strength to strength over three years. Your girlfriend is proud to bring you home and show you off to her parents. You’re well-educated and hold down a good job.

So why does the temperature drop every time you and her mother are in the same room? Your letter provides the answer. “I think she struggles to accept that her daughter is in a relationship with a girl.”

Yup. That’ll be it. And it’s significant that you almost throw the observation away at the end of your letter. It suggests you’d prefer not to believe that your girlfriend’s mother is prejudiced against gay relationships. I don’t blame you for that – it’s not a pleasant characteristic to detect in anyone, let alone a potential mother-in-law – but there’s no point living in denial.

'Your letter should encourage her to reappraise her feelings about you and her daughter' Credit:  Rii Schroer

In my experience, people with difficulties in accepting same-sex relationships tend to be fearful of them. Most prejudices are based on ignorance. Knowledge is power, though: you must try to let the daylight in on this woman’s anxieties and so ease them. Where to begin?

You don’t mention your girlfriend’s father, so I assume he is quietly accepting of his daughter’s sexuality. I’d start with him. You should both take him to one side and ask his advice.

He’ll know why his wife is so ill at ease with you and what she says in private about you both. Obviously his loyalties will be conflicted, so be careful not to push him too hard. Make it clear that you only want the four of you to be happy and relaxed in each other’s company, and welcome any suggestions he has.

Next, I think the best thing is for you to write this woman a letter. A face-to-face conversation might be a bit much for you both and there’s a risk she won’t engage and may even leave the room. Letters are easier; you can adjust and fine-tune what you say and sleep on it before sending. Letters also give the other person time to consider before they respond.

But whatever you write, it must come from the heart. Explain how much you love your girlfriend, and how much joy you get from her love for you. Say you both want a happy, relaxed atmosphere when you visit. Consider offering to take her out to lunch (just the two of you) for an honest and open conversation about everything. For example, she may be worried about not having grandchildren; perhaps you could put her mind at rest on that, in principle, anyway.

I don’t think you can do any more. At the very least, your letter should encourage her to reappraise her feelings about you and her daughter. Don’t expect miracles. But it’ll be a start, and it comes from the right place – love.