Meeting your partner’s parents is a significant milestone in any serious relationship. The timing of this meeting depends on various personal, relational, and cultural factors. Sometimes, both of you may feel confident and ready, while in other cases, determining the appropriate time might be more challenging. However, if you can answer “yes” to the following five questions, it may indicate that the time is right for you:
- Are you unquestionably a couple?
- Have you met his/her friends?
- Has he/she met your friends and/or family?
- Are you in an exclusive and committed relationship?
- Do you believe your relationship is progressing, and have you both expressed these feelings to each other?
Once you’ve established that the timing is right, planning and strategizing can help make the first meeting with your partner’s parents less stressful and more enjoyable. While it’s natural to feel nervous and wonder about the timing, the more relaxed and empowered you feel, the smoother the first meeting will likely go.
How to Nail the First Impression
To ensure a positive first impression, it’s essential to avoid common mistakes such as excessive phone use, excessive drinking, belittling or arguing with your partner in front of their family, dressing inappropriately, appearing judgmental, insincere, or fake, lying, being late, commenting on your partner’s ex, and displaying cultural insensitivity.
Building a good rapport with your in-laws contributes to the well-being and health of your relationship. Being well-received by your partner’s family goes a long way, particularly if your partner values their opinion.
Do Your Homework & Align with Your Partner
Recognize that your partner is likely to feel nervous too. Approaching this step as a team and providing support to each other will strengthen your relationship. Communicate with your partner about the expectations for the meeting and take the time to learn about their family background.
Ask your partner about their family relationships and if there are any values or traditions you should be aware of. Understand your partner’s feelings toward their family and what you can anticipate during the encounter. Familiarize yourself with the family’s dynamics, topics to avoid (including those mentioned in tip number nine below), names and descriptions of the individuals you’ll be meeting, and other pertinent details. Ask your partner to share anything that can facilitate a smooth first meeting.
Have Your Partner Introduce You
It’s particularly important for your partner to inform their family in advance, especially if you’re an interracial couple or belong to different religious backgrounds, as these differences can add extra stress to the first meeting. Your partner should also be upfront about any dietary restrictions you may have (if a meal is involved) to prevent any awkward situations.
Understand the Significance of the Setting & Circumstances
It’s crucial to grasp how the venue, location, occasion, duration of the visit, and the number of people present can influence the dynamics of the meeting. Setting realistic expectations based on these factors is important.
For instance, meeting your partner’s parents for dinner at a nearby restaurant, if they live locally, is entirely different from spending a week at their home in another state. Likewise, meeting them one on one has a different dynamic compared to meeting them at a large family gathering, event, wedding, or religious ceremony.
If you’re meeting them at your partner’s sibling’s wedding, for example, keep in mind that while they may be excited to meet you, they’ll also be preoccupied, overwhelmed, and excited as parents of the bride. You may not receive the undivided attention you expected, but maintain a broader perspective and don’t take such situations personally.
Don’t Arrive Empty-Handed
Bringing a gift, such as flowers, wine, dessert, or a candle, is a thoughtful gesture, especially if you’ll be dining or staying at their home or if it’s a holiday. Consider creative DIY gifts, holiday gifts, or store-bought options.
Meeting your partner’s parents is not the occasion to dress provocatively. It’s better to opt for a conservative outfit to ensure you don’t offend anyone or give the wrong impression. Ask your partner about their family’s style and dress code and try to align with it.
Make a Genuine Effort
Nervousness may hinder your ability to be fully present, but make sure you play your part in making the meeting go well. Ask questions, contribute to the conversation, show interest in getting to know them, listen attentively, and maintain appropriate eye contact and open body language.
Don’t hesitate to express, from a genuine place, how much you adore their child. Parents love to hear such heartfelt sentiments!
Respect Their Rituals, Routines & Traditions
Naturally, you’ll approach this situation from your own unique upbringing, but it’s crucial to remember that all families are different. You may encounter family traditions that differ from your own, but try to approach the situation with an open mind.
Respect their family rules and holiday traditions, even if they differ from yours. For example, if the custom is to sleep in separate rooms while staying with the parents, be considerate and respectful of this arrangement while under their roof.
Use Good Manners
Avoid public displays of affection to ensure that you don’t make anyone uncomfortable. Offer your help and lend a hand, even if you’re initially turned down.
Go with the flow, be punctual and polite, avoid oversharing or engaging in heated debates. Additionally, practice gratitude by expressing your thanks in person and sending a thoughtful thank-you note after the meeting.
Steer Clear of Sensitive Topics
Practice neutrality, without compromising who you are, and save sensitive subjects for later stages in your relationship. Remember that getting to know a new person involves different layers, and it requires mutual respect and trust to build a strong foundation.
Sharing too much or discussing sensitive topics like ex-partners, politics, or religion with the parents without a solid foundation can lead to relationship issues and overall discomfort. This may mean biting your tongue, at least initially.
Acknowledge Everyone’s Nervousness
You’re not the only one trying to make a good impression. Your partner and their family also want the introduction to go well. In fact, your partner may exhibit nervousness or behave differently around their family, as encounters with one’s family of origin can be some of the most emotionally charged experiences.
Topics like politics, religion, money, sex, and intimate matters are usually best saved for when you have truly gotten to know your partner’s parents.
Practice self-care strategies and ensure that you approach the meeting with a healthy mindset, remembering that you’re all in this together.
Maintain a Positive Attitude & You’ll Do Great!
Finally, approach the meeting with a positive mindset and understand that it doesn’t have to be flawless for you to be accepted into the family. Awkward moments are bound to happen, but try to stay relaxed and open.
Avoid assuming the worst and allow your connection with the family to grow gradually while being authentic and presenting the best version of yourself.