When Your Partner Meets Your Family: Some Important Considerations

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The holiday season is upon us. This often leads to feelings of excitement as you plan to spend time with your families enjoying great food and company. However, you may also be a bit stressed, especially if this is the first time you are bringing your partner home to meet everyone.

Research has shown that increased levels of social support lead to positive relationship outcomes, specifically greater reported relationship satisfaction and well-being (Blair & Holmberg, 2008). Social support is extremely important for the success of a relationship, and one of the biggest sources of support (hopefully) comes from our families.

You may be wondering if the holidays are a good time to bring your significant other home to meet your parents and extended family. Below are some ideas to consider.

1. You may want to set up an initial meeting with your closest family members and your partner first

Walking in to a holiday dinner consisting of extended family members and friends may be daunting for your significant other. He/she will spend most of the evening getting passed from person to person, and may not have time to sit down to have any real conversation with those closest to you.

Instead of the first meeting taking place in front of such a large crowd, plan to have a quiet dinner with your significant other and your parents/caregivers before the holiday. This way your partner and your parents will have a chance to get to know one another in a more low-key setting. This will also take a great deal of pressure off of your partner during the holiday dinner, because he/she will have some familiar faces to connect with when he/she sits down at the dinner table.

2. Tell your partner about any important customs and rituals that your family observes

Meeting new people is stressful enough, so don’t let your partner be caught off guard when it comes to your holiday rituals. For example, does your family go around the table sharing what they are most thankful for after dinner? Are there topics of conversation that are consistently brought up? The more information your partner has upon entering, the more comfortable he/she will feel.

3. Avoid sensitive conversation topics

For the initial meeting, it is important to avoid potentially sensitive or controversial topics such as race, politics, and religion. Even if you think your partner and your family may have similar stances, small differences in viewpoints can lead to a potentially uncomfortable conversation. Don’t get me wrong, these issues must be discussed (first with your partner), because it is important that the two of you align when it comes to your views of the world. However, having a situation in which your great aunt is going toe-to-toe with your partner isn’t exactly necessary.

These conversations will inevitably come up between your partner and your family during the course of your relationship. If these topics arise during the initial meeting, be sure that opinions are expressed without passing any judgment. Keeping the lines of communication open is important, but being kind to one another is also imperative.

4. Sit back, relax, and enjoy

Don’t get too caught upon trying to orchestrate the entire evening. You will get upset if something seems to go awry. If you get too nervous about the situation, your apprehension will rub off on your partner, and make him/her uncomfortable. Remember- both your family and your partner care about you, so they will want things to work out for the best. Relax and enjoy your time together.

Marisa T. Cohen, PhD

Marisa T. Cohen, PhD, is a psychology professor, relationship researcher and relationship coach.

Learn more about Marisa at www.marisatcohen.com.

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