It goes without saying that the holiday season can be a whirlwind. Juggling gift shopping, travel, parties, and family gatherings might push anyone from decking the halls to feeling like they need to hit the deck. This year in particular, however, promises an exciting return to some of the traditions previously thwarted by the pandemic.
In a survey of almost 5,000 participants, data and technology company Numerator found that 80% of people expect to celebrate one or more of the major 2021 holidays — Thanksgiving, Christmas and/or New Year’s — without COVID-related restrictions. If you’re anything like the majority, you might also be facing a classic scenario: meeting your partner’s family for the first time during the holidays.
Clinical psychologist and performance coach Dr. Joshua Klapow says this first interaction can reveal a lot about your relationship. “If you are meeting your partner’s family for the first time, you are crossing into next level intimacy with your partner,” he says. “Don’t go into it lightly, don’t assume anything, and prepare as much as you can beforehand.”
If cuffing season made a comeback for you in 2021, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the anxiety of meeting your partner’s folks; what’s the best way to make a good first impression? Should you bring a gift? What if you don’t eat a certain food they like? Below, find 10 tips for meeting your partner’s family for the first time this holiday season.
1. Ask Your Partner To Prep You
Just like you would for a job interview or an exciting first date, going in fully prepared is the best thing you can do before meeting your partner’s family. Prior to the planned holiday, Klapow suggests sitting down with your partner and having a meaningful conversation. “Talk with your partner about their family in-depth,” he says. “Not just topics to dive into or avoid, but who they are, what their relationship is with your partner, what your partner’s relationship is with them, their story, and where they are right now.”
2. Talk Through Any Worries With Your Partner Beforehand
Meeting anyone new for the first time can cause jitters, not to mention meeting people as significant as your partner’s relatives. To counteract any anxieties or concerns you might have going into the situation, author, relationship expert, and founder of Renew Breakup Bootcamp Amy Chan suggests discussing anything that might make you uncomfortable with your partner. “Agree on a signal/cue to communicate with each other in the event the situation arises,” Chan tells Bustle. “This might even be a signal to cue when you’re ready to call it a night.”
3. Don’t Arrive Empty-Handed
A good rule of thumb is to always bring at least a small gift or token of appreciation for the hospitality being shown to you. According to relationship coach Jaime Bronstein, you can bring flowers, a picture frame, homemade dessert, or a bottle of wine if they drink. You can also ask your partner ahead of time about any hobbies their family enjoys or what restaurants they like. “You want to show that you are thoughtful and you respect them and you are grateful for the time together,” Bronstein says. Showing that you took the time to be intentional in your gift-giving will go a long way.
4. Always Offer To Help Out
Especially during the holidays, everyone can appreciate a helping hand. Whether it be something as simple as setting the table or peeling some potatoes, it’s never a bad idea to roll up your sleeves and contribute. Regardless of whether another set of hands is needed, showing that you’re ready and willing to help your partner’s family will show them that you appreciate the effort they are putting in to host you.
5. Handle Heated Topics With Caution
In terms of dinner table conversation, Chan recommends avoiding polarizing topics. “If politics or other controversial topics do arise, remember to practice curiosity.” It’s OK to ask questions, but ultimately knowing when to move on is wise.
Klapow also says it’s best to stay neutral. “You don’t have to avoid topics completely unless your partner has asked you to,” he says. “And if they have asked you to, understand why. The key here is to know what you are getting into and see this as your chance to form an impression versus dying for your cause; be that politics, social issues, or your favorite sports team.”
6. Be Respectful Of Any Holiday Or Family Traditions
There’s always a possibility that your partner’s family comes from a different cultural or religious background than you do. While this is something your partner should absolutely brief you on beforehand, Klapow explains you can honor their traditions. “You don’t have to compromise your true beliefs, but engage in rituals out of respect,” he says. “If there is an issue, you can politely state your views or your beliefs or customs.” Understanding your partner’s family traditions provides another way to get to know them more.
7. Have A Plan To Deal With Dietary Restrictions
Like most things, dietary restrictions are an important subject to broach with your partner in advance, that way they can communicate with their family before the holidays. Chan suggests bringing a dish to contribute if you’re worried about your partner’s family possibly forgetting or not abiding by your needs; this can also be a great addition to any gifts you may plan to bring.
8. Be Prepared For Any Sleeping Arrangement
If you’re staying overnight with your partner’s family, don’t expect to share a room with your partner. We may be living in 2021, but when meeting your partner’s family for the first time know when to pick your battles; including when it comes to where they would prefer you to sleep. If you and your partner feel strongly enough about sharing a bed, you can always opt to get a hotel or Airbnb close by instead. Otherwise, respect that it’s “their house, their rules”.
9. It’s OK If You Don’t Really Get Along
One of the biggest concerns anyone is bound to have when meeting their partner’s family is whether or not the family will like or accept you. While it’s totally valid to feel anxious around this, ultimately we cannot control what other people think of us. If you find that you’re not vibing with your partner’s family, despite your best efforts, Bronstein suggests talking about it with your partner after the visit. “If you know that you have been kind and considerate, then it's all on them,” she says. “Sometimes people aren't open to new people coming into their family regardless of who that person is, so don't be offended and take it personally.”
10. Above All, Be Your Authentic Self
While it can be tempting to try and present a version of yourself that you may think your partner’s family wants to see, Bronstein says you don’t have to go “overboard” in trying to make a good impression. “Be authentically you, and you can't go wrong.”
Joshua Klapow, Ph.D, Clinical psychologist and performance coach
Amy Chan, author, founder and Chief Heart Hacker of Renew Breakup Bootcamp
Jaime Bronstein, relationship coach