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You always strive to be gracious when you're visiting someone, but being a good guest means something entirely different when the hosts are your in-laws. It creates a foundation for an important relationship that lasts, well, forever. No pressure, right? Add to that the intimate setting and things have the potential to get awkward.
Luckily, there are ways to ease the anxiety for all involved and smooth the way toward positive future relationships, say Teresa Grella-Hillebrand, M.A., LMFT, and director, Counseling and Mental Health Professions Clinic at Hofstra University and April Masini, relationship advice columnist. Just keep their advice in mind, breathe, and smile. See? You're already off to a great start.
Get the 411 on their customs.
Do they frown on public affection? Would they be offended if you offered them your hand and not a great big hug when you meet? Learn about his family's quirks and habits so you can prepare accordingly. When you arrive, hang back and observe their rhythms. You'll know better where to insert yourself in a natural manner.
Ask to engage.
Genuine curiosity shows you care. Ask about the things they're proud of. If they have a gorgeous garden, ask how they got such amazing tomatoes to grow. And, says Grella-Hillebrand, your spouse is a natural bridge. If ever at a loss for conversation, talk about what he was like as a kid or ask to see old photos. He may cringe as you pore over grade-school portraits, but it will give his folks a chance to brag about one of their favorite topics.
Yes, it should go without saying. But respecting a family's customs — and history — goes far beyond using your best manners. If they believe in a more traditional family structure and you're a staunch feminist, don't try to defend or sell your position.
Don't fight your intended's battles.
Your guy may have confessed some not-so-perfect details about his childhood. It's natural to feel protective, says Grella-Hillebrand, but it's not your battle to fight. Don't try to repair their relationship. Masini agrees: "Sometimes, your place is sitting quietly while he and his folks hash out history. At home, you may be his everything, but if you take on what isn't yours to take on, you're going to be creating problems and robbing him of the opportunity to take care of his own."
You want to impress your in laws, but don't go overboard. You won't fit in perfectly and immediately. It takes time. Find ways to interact that are natural for you, say helping out in the kitchen if you love to cook, and they'll begin to learn who you really are.
Jolène M. Bouchon is a regular contributor to Brides.com and a freelance writer.