When your parents don’t approve of your boyfriend, it’s not about the boyfriend exactly.

If you’ve been following the Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber on-again-off-again romance at all (aka Jelena)—you’ve probably heard that Selena’s parents aren't exactly huge fans of good ol’ Biebs. Considering their rocky romantic history, we all can kind of get it. Her bombastic Canadian beau has grown up very much in the public eye, and his early twenties were hardly an exemplary example of how to be a gentleman.

It was only a few years ago that the relentless tabloids seemed to gleefully report weekly on his reckless and shady shenanigans. You know the story: Another child star gone crazy. Everyone loved to hate him. Well, times have changed. Recent reports seem to suggest that he's done a lot of growing up, and he's since turned a new leaf. Not to mention, he doesn't seem to be taking Gomez for granted this time around. They're even going to couples counseling—reminding us all that it's never too late to say sorry.

Still, all this positive change doesn't seem to be enough for his girlfriend's mother, who publicly admitted that she's "not happy" with their re-coupling. While certainly not a surprising reaction (how would your parents respond to you dating an ex like Bieber?), the tension is definitely relatable. So many of us can recall the piercing let down of bringing a guy home, only to receive a response of meh.

So we've asked Joshua Klapow, clinical psychologist and host of The Web Radio Show, to explore the classic conundrum of when your family is not loving your boyfriend—and what to do about it.

It’s not about the boyfriend—it’s about you.

Remember, your parents—flawed as they might be—are looking out for you. It's more or less hardwired in their DNA. Klapow tells Verily, "If they don’t like your partner, it's not just about your partner as a person, but rather what they represent more broadly to your life." Ask yourself: Is he pulling you away from your friends? Messing with your career? Or is he even compromising your mental or physical health?

"All of these factors are not about who your partner is, as much as what being with your partner does to your life," Klapow says. Hence, the "dislike for your partner may have more to do with the path the partner is setting you on than whether or not they like your partner as a person."

Remember, your parents know some things.

Klapow explains that parents know you better than you think—and by virtue of their position, have a different perspective, which carries some serious advantages. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Your parents have been around longer and have more experience judging character (even if you don’t feel that to be the case).
  • They have likely been through relationship challenges that you haven’t and often can see the proverbial writing on the wall (even if you don’t believe them).
  • They are not you—which means they are on the outside of the relationship looking in and can see interactions, clues, and signs that you may be blinded by.
  • They have your best interests at heart (most of the time). Remember, they're not invested in your partner; they're invested in you.

Still, boundaries are a must.

Whether your relationship with your parents is strong as iron, or barely there, remember that their perspective should always at least be considered. "You may disagree but the advice is an observation or a data point for you to take in and decide what is good or bad with this relationship," Klapow says.

He explains that when your parents are only pointing things out that you know might be accurate—without strong directives telling you what to do—they are likely communicating important information. If, however, their advice is demeaning or disrespectful to you or your partner—and if their reasoning boils down to what makes them happy it is likely not good advice.

When it comes to something as important as your romantic future, boundaries are crucial; but when emotions are flying high, everything can get murky. Klapow tells us that boundaries can be simple if you think about it this way: "You should always make your decisions about your partner on your own or on your own terms," he shares. "You should not take action based on their demands or even requests. That is the line in the sand."

You can help diffuse the situation.

If you've sat down and considered their perspectives, and you've determined that your parents might be off-base or over-protective, it's important that you at least try to facilitate a relationship between both parties, by talking to them both separately.

"Try to get buy-in from both sides—and a willingness to better understand each other," Klapow suggests. "Give both your parents and your partner opportunities to get to know each other gradually. . . . Start with events, dinners, coffees."

He suggests having both parties go out to places together—like a play or the movies—instead of always bringing your partner to their domain. "Let your parents see your partner in a more comfortable manner, and let your partner see your parents in a setting where they are the outsiders." Provide multiple chances to know each other in various kinds of situations.

Over time, the more they're each exposed to seeing each other in different settings, the more both your parents and your partner will understand each other in a more authentic manner. Maybe they'll never be best friends—after all, the in-law dynamic can be perpetually tense—but remember your partner and your parents have a really valuable, irreplaceable connection: you.

And you can make all the difference.