Finally meeting your partner’s parents is an exciting relationship milestone. Not only is it a sign that you're both serious about a future, but it also gives you a chance to get to know your partner even better.
Getting a glimpse at how they were brought up and what family dynamic they grew up with can help deepen your connection — and who doesn’t love bonding over embarrassing baby photos?
That being said, meeting your partner’s family can be nerve-wracking, to say the least. You want to make a good first impression — after all, your partner’s family will likely become a significant part of the life you're building together, whether or not you plan on getting married.
Research even shows that how your partner’s parents feel about you can affect the future of your relationship. “Researchers Shelli Dubbs, Abraham Buunk, and Jessica Li share that decisions about partner selection are influenced by a variety of sources, one of them being parents,” explains Dr. Marisa T. Cohen, a relationship scientist, coach, and expert at Paired.
“In some cultures parents directly control who their children choose to marry, however, even in cultures in which this is not the case, parents still exert some influence by expressing their approval or disapproval for a potential mate.” As if meeting the parents wasn’t daunting enough, right?
“Don’t view this as a time in which you are being scrutinized,” says Dr. Cohen. “As much as your future in-laws will no doubt want to see you as part of the family, you can also use this time to examine how they can be a part of your life and further enhance your connection with your partner.”
Although it’s unlikely that you’ll pull a Ben Stiller in Meet the Parents, we asked Dr. Cohen to share her expert advice to help alleviate some of the anxiety. Keep reading for three tips on how to meet in-laws for the first time and ensure your relationship with them gets off on a good foot.
“Meeting the parents is a big step, but it's being taken because your partner cares about you and wants the people in their life to love you as much about you as they do,” says Dr. Cohen.
“In families in which there are strong bonds, the decision to bring someone home is an important one. Be yourself and let them see what your partner sees in you. After all, it’s likely they’ll be looking for all of the exciting reasons why your partner has picked you and will want to support their happiness.”
Dr. Cohen recommends keeping a positive attitude to set yourself up for success. “Confirmation bias is the tendency to seek out information that supports an existing belief or viewpoint,” explains Dr. Cohen.
“If you walk in with a negative attitude, chances are you will search for (and potentially find) something to confirm your belief. An example of this may be interpreting the failure of your partner’s parents to pass you the ketchup as a sign they don’t like you when it’s really because they didn’t hear you. By going in with an open mind and treating the meeting as any social event, you give your partner’s parents and yourself a chance to form a real connection.”
“During your conversations, be sure to actively listen to your partner’s parents and look for things you share,” says Dr. Cohen.
“This will help the conversation flow and provide you with something that you can bond over.” If you’re nervous, you can prep beforehand and ask your partner if their parents share any of your hobbies or interests.
If you’re hard-pressed to find conversation starters, at least you can rely on the one thing you have in common: your partner. “Remember not to ask for any personal or embarrassing stories that will make your partner uncomfortable,” cautions Dr. Cohen.
“However, getting a first-hand account of your partner’s childhood not only gives the parents time to gush but provides you with more insight into the person you are with.”
Still nervous about meeting in-laws for the first time? Download Paired and complete Dr. Cohen’s exercise “Meeting the In-Laws” with your partner.