Since the holiday season is now upon us, thereâ€™s no better time to talk about families. Letâ€™s be honest here, every family has a little bit of crazy in it. (Some, more than their fair share.) Each family is built on layers of history, old conflicts that never got resolved, new conflicts, personality clashes, and maybe a few skeletons in the closet.
And now, your new flame has suggested that itâ€™s time to meet his or her family. Maybe for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Hanukkah. That means you get to walk right into another familyâ€™s pile of crazy, all without a cheat sheet.
Are horrible visions of Ben Stiller strapped into a lie detector machine from Meet the Parents flashing in your head? Worry not! You can survive this meeting and maybe even make a good impression while youâ€™re at it. The truth is that most families arenâ€™t that bad, and if you try to be good, chances are that they will be good too.
Here are a few tricks that will help you ace a meeting with your partnerâ€™s family:
You donâ€™t have to feel like a lamb thrown into a den of wolves when you sit down for Thanksgiving dinner with a group of strangers. Ask your partner about his/her parents, siblings, uncles, aunts, grandparents, and anyone else you are likely to meet. Find out what they do, what their hobbies are, and sensitive areas that may need to be avoided. If any particular family member has an issue, like a mental illness, or a penchant for political rants, be prepared so you wonâ€™t get surprised. When you meet your partnerâ€™s family for the first time, they shouldnâ€™t feel like strangers at all.
Go out of your way to try and make a first good impression. After all, these people may become a permanent part of your life if you and your partner stick together. That means dressing appropriately, using the manners your mother taught you, and generally trying to play nice. Your behavior also reflects on your partner. In the future, you can let your hair down a little more, but for now, focus on reassuring the family that their son/daughter/sibling/grandchild made a good choice.
No two families are alike, so be prepared to see different family dynamics in action. Maybe your partnerâ€™s family is much more rigid and formal than your own, or it could be the opposite. You may be surprised to be pulled into warm hugs and asked personal questions. You may see conflicts between family members, even fights or loud arguments. Whatever you find, try to go with the flow of the existing family dynamic and stay out of conflicts. If your partnerâ€™s father has opposite political views than you own, or you get served a meal full of gluten, stay polite. Avoid arguments and remember that your partner couldnâ€™t pick his/her family. If they truly are horrible, focus on surviving and appreciate the fact that your partner didnâ€™t turn out like his/her parents!
Listen and Ask Questions
One easy way to get into anyoneâ€™s good graces is to ask them questions about themselves. This is where all your homework comes in. You should have asked your partner to tell you about his/her family members. Now is the time to use that information. If your partnerâ€™s father loves fishing, compliment the fishing trophy on the mantel, and get ready to listen to his last great fishing adventures. The more questions you ask and the more you listen, the more youâ€™ll get to know each family member. Theyâ€™ll also start opening up to you, which is a great way to establish trust.
When you meet your partnerâ€™s family, you want to be polite and to stay out of conflicts, but that doesnâ€™t mean hiding your true self. The reason your partner wants you to meet his/her family is to introduce them to you! Donâ€™t be afraid to talk about yourself and let your personality shine through. If you donâ€™t agree with a political point or need to request a gluten-free alternative, do so, but in a respectful manner. Debate is good. Polite requests are good. Angry arguments or accusations are not. Remember, if your partner is confident enough to bring you to family Christmas or Hanukkah, he/she wants to show you off! Try to relax and be yourself.
Donâ€™t forget that you can turn the tables at any time and invite your partner to one of your next upcoming family events!