- If you’re spending the holidays with your partner’s family for the first time, be polite and thoughtful without trying too hard.
- Ask your partner beforehand about family members you can befriend.
- It’s also a chance to learn more about your partner’s relationship with their family.
Spending the holidays with your partner’s family for the first time can be an opportunity to get to know important people in their life, partake in new traditions, and grow even closer. It can also be stressful to feel like you’re being evaluated with every move. The holidays can be notoriously difficult times, even for the best of families.
INSIDER spoke to relationship experts to find out the best ways to make a good impression while still feeling like yourself. Here are eight tips for meeting your partner’s family over the holidays.
Make sure your partner has your back.
Before your visit, talk to your partner about how you can look out for each other during the holiday. Maybe you want them to sit next to you at meals, occasionally check in, or run interference if you get stuck in an unending conversation with a talkative relative.
“There are some people who believe that if I bring somebody along, they should be socially capable of taking care of themselves and I shouldn’t have to look after them, but that’s a mistake,” relationship expert Dr. Stan Tatkin, author of “We Do: Saying Yes to a Relationship of Depth, True Connection, and Enduring Love,” told INSIDER. “When the other person has a home field advantage, it’s important that people talk about how they’re going to protect each other, particularly the person who doesn’t know anyone.”
Your partner might ask for backup from you, too.
“That’s the idea of being a couple,” said Tatkin. “They protect each other. They have each other’s backs, even with people that are familiar.”
Bring a gift.
Don’t show up empty-handed. Susan Winter, relationship expert and bestselling author of “Allowing Magnificence” and “The Cure for Heartache,” recommends bringing something tasteful and simple, such as a bottle of wine or a bouquet of flowers.
“Any kind of gift that’s thoughtful – food, wine, flowers – is very safe and much appreciated,” she said. “It’s a generous gesture that will buy you a lot of traction.”
Find someone you click with.
Finding points of connection with a relative can help you feel more comfortable. If one of your partner’s family members works in the same field as you or shares one of your TV show obsessions, seek them out.
“The lovely thing about families is that there’s always someone cool to talk to,” said Winter. “Your partner should have tipped you off as to who this person is. There should be someone with whom you resonate with there, other than your partner.”
Offer to help.
Even if your partner’s family insists that you should sit back and relax, offering to help is a thoughtful gesture.
“At least ask,” said Winter. “And not ask like ‘You need any help?’ where the subtext is ‘I really don’t want to help you but I’m asking just because I should be asking.’ There are little things you can do. Ask whoever is cooking, ‘Can I help you, can I set out the plates?’ Try to be helpful. That goes a long way.”
Feel out your partner’s family.
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Your partner is bringing you home so that their family can get to know you, but it’s also an opportunity for you to get a feel for what their family is like. The way they treat you can be telling.
“When you want to make a good impression you’re basically courting the family. But it’s also the family’s responsibility to be warm and inviting,” said Tatkin. “If I were a guest in a home and I found that the family was not warm and inviting and gracious, that might be a bad sign.”
Learn more about your partner’s relationship with their family.
Tatkin told INSIDER that the holidays can be notoriously difficult times even for the best of families. Your partner might try to hide whatever stress they’re feeling, but hopefully they’ll use it as an opportunity to share more of their story with you.
“Hopefully your partner is transparent about how they feel about people around them and how they feel about being there,” he said. “If they tell you ‘I really have a hard time being around my mother’ or ‘I have a hard time when my mother and sister are together,’ that’s actually a good sign. They’re letting you into their most intimate relationships that have the longest history.”
Listen to what people tell you.
Take relatives’ advice with a grain of salt, especially when there’s alcohol involved, but don’t ignore red flags either.
“It’s a good time to listen to what people tell you: ‘You’re so lovely, I’m so glad you’re with our son’ or ‘Watch out for our son,'” said Tatkin. “It can be a really interesting time, especially when people have a few drinks.”
Be yourself — modified.
Tatkin said that putting your best foot forward doesn’t have to mean trying too hard.
“Be yourself as if you’re going for a job interview, in the sense that you’re not going to show up inebriated but you’re not going to try too hard,” he said. “I think it’s better to just relax and be a guest and not worry so much.”
According to Winter, poise is key.
“In the initial meetings, the point is to give a good impression,” she said. “Test the waters as you go. We tend to edit ourselves and put on our polite face until we know what’s going on, until we can start to come out of our shell a little bit. Be polite, be thoughtful, and you can’t go wrong.”
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