How To Get Along Better With Your Partner's Family, According To Experts
Even though you get along swimmingly with your partner, it doesn't necessarily mean you'll get along with your partner's family — at least not right away. It can take some time to feel comfortable around them and find your place within the group. And if mismatched personalities are involved, the process can take even longer.
There are, after all, so many factors involved when it comes to family dynamics. "How close the family is, their past interactions with [your partner, and] how willing they are to accept anyone in your position are all at play," Lesli Doares, a couples consultant and coach, tells Bustle. Some families will throw their arms open and draw you right in, while others might be a bit cool or standoffish.
That's why, if you aren't feelin' the love, you won't want to take it personally. There are, however, plenty of ways you can try to bridge the gap, and "with a little flexibility, you can get a little closer," Lily Ewing, MA, LMHCA, a therapist who specializes in relationships, tells Bustle.
It may be necessary to create a few boundaries at times, Ewing says, especially if the situation has become problematic. But in terms of everyday awkwardness, or not having anything in common, the tips below should help you find common ground, and get along better with your partner's family.
1. Try To Be Yourself
It's understandable that nerves might kick in and make it difficult to fully relax. But if you're hanging out with your partner's family, all you really need to do is be yourself.
"The strong desire to fit in can cause people to try too hard when building relationships with their loved one’s family members," Ewing says. So take a deep breath, tell a few jokes, or do whatever else comes naturally.
Once you know you don't have to change yourself, "you’ll show up a lot more confident and comfortable, making it easier for everyone to get to know the real you," Ewing says.
2. Focus On The Positives
"It’s easy to see the negatives in others, especially if the relationship started on the wrong foot," Jonathan Bennett, relationship and dating expert at Double Trust Dating, tells Bustle. "However, everyone has positive aspects, even if you have to look."
So if you aren't currently seeing eye-to-eye with your partner's family, try to look for their good qualities. Maybe your partner's mom isn't open with you, but you've noticed she shows her love by making amazing food. Or maybe you don't have anything in common with their dad, but you appreciate how much he loves your partner.
"If you try to keep your focus on the things you like about your partner’s family," Bennett says, "it can help you get along."
3. Take An Interest In Them
Similarly, if you find yourself turning inward, it can also help to turn your attention outward and focus on those around you. And when in doubt, asking questions is always a good thing to fall back on.
"Most people like to talk about themselves and feel like someone is interested in who they are," Doares says. "This will also give you insight into why they act, think, feel, and believe the way they do. This opens the possibility for finding common ground on something."
Plus, these conversations will allow them to get to know you. Once everyone starts opening up and sharing stories, it'll make it easier to get along.
4. Offer To Help
To get along with anyone, often all you need to do is offer to help, and they'll welcome you right in. And that's certainly something you can do for your partner's family as well.
"Your partner’s family will quickly sense that you care when you volunteer yourself to help with the dishes, bring a side to the family dinner, or help watch the kids every now and then," Lauren Cook, MMFT, a clinician practicing emotionally-focused therapy, tells Bustle. "Showing how you’re a team member who cares about the whole family, and not just your partner, makes a big difference."
5. Practice Good Manners
When meeting a family member for the first time, or attending an event at a relative's house, it never hurts to show up with a housewarming gift of some kind, and really leaning into those manners.
"This can’t be underestimated," Cook says. "People often love receiving a small gift and it’s a gracious gesture that shows you care. Whether its flowers, a candle, or a homemade treat, your partner’s family will be hard-pressed to not smile upon receiving such a gift."
Be your usual self, but spice it up a bit for the occasion. This will show how much you appreciate spending time with the family, and that will earn you all sorts of bonus points.
6. Share Stories
Remember, you do have something in common with these folks, and that's your partner. So go ahead and let that break the ice, especially when you find yourselves scrounging for things to talk about.
"Ask about their memories of your partner growing up," Doares says. "You know them as an adult but these people helped form who they became." And that can make for some great convos.
"Sharing stories — funny, sad, good, challenging — is a way to see all parties as multi-dimensional," Doares says. "Remember that everyone’s memories are different but it will provide more perspective."
7. Talk With Your Partner
Of course, if you truly aren't being accepted into the family — or worse, if you're feeling rejected — you need to let your partner know.
"If your partner’s family does not like you and they are not embracing you, it’s worth having a conversation with your partner," Cook says. "Has this happened before with other partners? Is this personal to you? Understanding what the rift is about can help you either find a compromise with the family or learn that the relationship with the family needs space."
And this is especially true if you're sensing any toxicity or if a problem has developed. If you aren't feeling comfortable, tell your partner so they can set up boundaries, and work on improving the situation. With time, you should be able to get along better with their family, especially if you're remaining positive and making an effort.
Lesli Doares, couples consultant and coach
Lily Ewing, MA, LMHCA, therapist at Lily Ewing Counseling, LLC
Jonathan Bennett, relationship and dating expert at Double Trust Dating
Lauren Cook, MMFT, clinician practicing emotionally-focused therapy