Meeting your partner's parents for the first time is an exciting relationship milestone. It's a sign that you're both serious about a future together and it gives you a chance to get to know your significant other in a new way—hearing stories about their childhood, understanding the family structure they grew up with, and getting a glimpse at what your future in-laws might look like can all help deepen your partnership.
All that said, it's important to acknowledge that meeting your partner's parents can be a stressful experience. You want to make a great first impression, so you might feel nervous about having enough to talk about, wearing the right outfit, and what they'll think of you as a person. What's more, you might also be concerned about how you'll feel about them—after all, this could be your future family.
To help make this first meeting as successful as possible, we turned to Jean Fitzpatrick, a licensed relationship therapist in New York City, for advice. Here, shares the tips you need to make a great first impression and advice to help manage any pre-meeting anxiety.
Meet the Expert
Jean Fitzpatrick, a licensed relationship therapist in New York City,
Know That Everyone Has Anxiety
If you're feeling anxious or jittery before meeting your partner's parents for the first time, know that you are not alone. In fact, Fitzpatrick says this is very normal. "It's natural to feel some anxiety," she says. "You want to make a good impression, and assuming it’s a serious relationship you’re hoping to like them."
Fitzpatrick says it's important to consider why you're feeling this way: Are these regular nerves, or is there something more at play that you might want to address before the meeting? For example, consider how your significant other talks about his or her parents: "If [they] put [their parents] on a pedestal, you may feel as though you’ll never measure up. Or if [your partner] argues with or keeps his distance from them, you may not be looking forward to this meeting," she explains. "If there’s a cultural or religious difference between you and your partner, you may worry how [their] parents feel about that."
Whatever you do, don't set yourself up for failure. Knowing that everyone feels some level of nerves before these types of meetings is important, and reminding yourself that how you're feeling is entirely normal can help ease some of that stress.
Don't Rush the Meeting
Fitzpatrick says that both partners should agree that they feel ready for this next step before planning to meet family. If your significant other suggests meeting his or her parents but you're extremely overwhelmed by the idea, Fitzpatrick says that you should consider why you feel this way. "Pay attention to your anxiety and see what it wants to teach you," she says. "Is this meeting happening too early in the relationship? Does this step feel rushed?"
This begs the question: When is the right time to meet your partner's parents? According to Fitzpatrick, there is no correct answer. "It depends on the circumstances," she says. For example, if you all live in the same city and you can join the family for brunch or a casual gathering, this meeting might not feel like a very big deal and you'll feel inclined to organize it sooner. If, on the other hand, you have to fly across the country or world to meet family, it might be something you take more time to do.
While the timing is ultimately up to you, Fitzpatrick does recommend meeting your partner's parents before getting engaged. "Before you commit to a lifelong relationship, it’s a good idea to meet the parents," she explains. "When it comes to relationships, our parents were our first teachers. How your partner’s family behave toward one another and toward you can tell you a lot about how your partner first learned to love. It’s not the whole story, but it’s valuable data. And you’ll certainly want to know whether they are welcoming to you."
Fitzpatrick says it's a good idea to engage your partner's parents by asking questions; this will help you get to know the whole family better and show how interested you are in knowing each and every member. "Ask about your partner and what he was like as a child, especially if there are any funny moments they remember. They’ll enjoy reminiscing," she says. "Be sure to chime in about qualities you appreciate in your partner."
"If you’re in their home, ask about family photos. Note special details you notice about the food and décor," Fitzpatrick adds. "Also ask them about themselves—their work, community, and hobbies." Not only will you learn a lot more about your partner's family, but you will also show them that you are engaged, interested, and care about your partner and his or her family.
Avoid Touchy Subjects
There are certain topics of conversation you should avoid when meeting your partner's parents for the first time. "Unless you know your views are aligned, the first meeting is probably not the time to start a political discussion," says Fitzpatrick. Save trickier topics for down the road when you know one another better.
But don't be afraid to talk about yourself. "They'll be interested to hear about your own family and childhood, and about your career and interests," Fitzpatrick adds.
Ask Your Partner for Help
"Your partner plays an important role in helping you feel comfortable with his or her parents," says Fitzpatrick. "He or she can be a valuable source of insider information beforehand." You can ask your partner what his or her parents like to do for fun or what they have in common, which will help you come prepared with topics of conversation. Ask your partner if there are any subjects that are sensitive and should be avoided.
You can also discuss the meeting afterward. "It's helpful if he or she is willing to debrief afterward," says Fitzpatrick. "Remember though that it’s not fair to blame him for anything his parents say or do, but you do need to feel he has your back."
Remember, your partner is dating you because he or she loves and appreciates who you are—that's the person they want their parents to meet. While you might not want to reveal your entire self to your partner's mother and father at first, don't be afraid to show off your personality. Talk about your passions and interests and what makes you excited. Wear an outfit you love and makes you feel good.
This can be hard for some people, says Fitzpatrick. "Are you a people-pleaser who needs to pay more attention to your own inner GPS and less to the way others see you?" she asks. If so, remind yourself that the goal of this meeting is for your partner's parents to get to know you. If you are serious about your significant other, you will be together for a long time, and you can't pretend you are someone else forever. Show your true personality, and hopefully your partner's parents will see exactly what their son or daughter does as well.