If you are in a romantic relationship, eventually the time may come to meet your partner’s family. This can be an important step in a relationship, because family is often a very influential part of someone’s life. Meeting your partner’s family can create an essential connection between two important pieces of their life: their family and their romantic companion. This connection can solidify your partner’s support system, and can also deepen your relationship by learning more about where and who your partner came from. Understandably, meeting your partner’s family can be a stressful and intimidating moment, because many people place a great deal of importance on how their family feels about their partner. Family approval can also provide a sense of security for your partner in the relationship.
That being said, the worst part about meeting your partner’s family is usually the pressure that you place on yourself. Most of the time, your partner’s parents, siblings, or other extended family members will be welcoming and look forward to meeting the person their loved one has been spending so much time with. While most people are mainly concerned with meeting the parents, building a good connection with siblings, aunts, uncles, and grandparents can be equally important. Remaining calm, considerate, and gracious, can help make a lasting positive first impression on your partner’s family. Studies show that the process of sexual selection, which is considered to be central to the study of human mating, is likely to be influenced by parents’ preferences1, so make the most of your time with them. There are many steps you can take, such as dressing appropriately, staying relaxed, and being polite, that will ensure you begin the relationship with your partner’s family as smoothly as possible. To help that process, here are some tips to keep in mind:
Treat Your Partner Well
One of the best ways to have a good relationship with your partner’s family is by treating your partner well, not only in front of their family, but all the time. Caring for your partner and treating them with kindness and respect is essential for the relationship, but it is also a way to gain trust from your partner’s family. If they see that you have a happy relationship, it will help ease any concerns they may have, and help them grow to love you. Furthermore, when your partner talks about you with their family, they will have plenty of positive things to say about how much you care and how kind you are. These conversations will support a favorable view of you and make meeting your partner’s family much easier. Treating your partner well not only promotes a positive view from their family, but keeps your own relationship healthy and happy.
When you meet your partner’s family, you should dress in a way that is respectful to both the people you are meeting and to yourself. Wear something clean, well-fitting, and modest. Depending on the situation, you may want to wear something more formal or more casual, but the most important thing is to feel comfortable. It is much more important to wear clothes that represent who you are than clothes that you think the family will like. The first thing that the family will see is you and your outfit, so choose clothes that will give off a great first impression. A good tip is to ask your partner what they think would be appropriate, and adjust your attire appropriately.
Find Shared Interests
Finding shared interests with your partner’s family can be beneficial in multiple ways. Having things in common with your partner’s family members can make conversation easier and give them even more reasons to like you. It is very likely that the family will ask you many questions about yourself in order to get to know you better. You should also ask your partner’s family members questions about themselves, both to show that you are interested in getting to know them and to discover more common connections. You could ask about their hobbies, their occupations, and perhaps even their goals. If you are lucky, you just might find a deep passion that you share with someone in your partner’s family, which is something that you can build on over time. This can contribute to a successful relationship with the family, forge stronger connections, and encourage the family to accept you.
Avoid Controversial Subjects
There are many topics that may be deemed inappropriate for a first meeting with your partner’s family. These include topics such as politics, religion, past traumas, and more. Avoiding these heavy subjects will help you decrease the chance of arguments and awkward situations. You may have fundamental differences in beliefs that your partner’s family does not necessarily need to know about the first time you meet. If your partner’s family does bring something up such as religion or politics, do not lie about your preference. Just tell them the truth, but in a respectful way that does not lead to an argument. If your partner has a belief that you share but their family do not, do not bring up the fact that your partner supports this belief as well. There is a chance that they have kept it from their family, and revealing it could cause conflict in your relationship. As much as possible, try to keep the conversation focused on relatable, non-controversial topics that can help establish a connection with the family.
Visualize the Meeting Before It Happens
Try not to worry about the things that could go wrong. Instead, visualize how meeting the family will most likely unfold. Think about what they could possibly say to you and ask you. The more prepared you are for what they might say, the more confident you will be. Think about the questions that you want to ask them. With mental practice, the meeting will be less stressful because you have “been there before.” This method may not completely calm your nerves, but it can help you feel more prepared and confident in the moment. While visualizing, try to think positively, because becoming preoccupied with the potential negative scenarios that could occur will only worry you more. If a stressful or unpleasant scenario does occur while meeting the family, you can deal with it in the moment with the support of your partner. Remember that mistakes and awkward moments are bound to happen eventually, so it is best to be prepared for them rather than being afraid of them.
Take a deep breath! Try to find ways to relax yourself before meeting your partner’s family, because it will help you maintain a calm and confident composure and ease some anxiety. It is also important to relax after the initial meeting to reward yourself for achieving this milestone, and to prevent ruminating about little things you could have done differently. If you find yourself worrying about anything that occurred during the meeting, talk it through with your partner. Meeting your partner’s family is about deepening your connection with your partner and beginning a new relationship with the people your partner cares about. This is most likely just the first of many interactions you will have with the family, so do your best to relax and remember why you are there. Do not expect perfection, and know that your partner’s family is going to understand that you are nervous, so stumbling over a few words or spilling a drink is not a big deal. As long as you are making an active effort to leave a good impression with the family, they will appreciate it. Try to enjoy meeting them and be present in the moment. Afterwards, you might want to spend some quality alone time with your partner, perhaps by planning a fun date to unwind and celebrate the milestone of meeting their family.
Cultural Differences When Meeting the Family
If you know that there will be cultural differences between you and your partner’s family, it is a smart idea to do some research on their culture beforehand. Making yourself familiar with some aspects of their culture will help you have an easier time adjusting to the differences you may have. You should ask your partner beforehand if there is anything specific you should know about the culture, and make sure to ask if there will be a language barrier. If there is, your nonverbal cues (body language) will play a big part in accurately conveying your personality and who you are. Try to learn a few words and sentences in their language. This can be a sign to the family that you care and you want to communicate and a build a relationship. Make sure to smile and give kind gestures in order to show that you really want to make an effort to communicate with them. For certain cultures, the first meeting is not only important for you but also for them. In collectivistic cultures, they see marriage as the joining of two families, so partner selection is a choice that affects not only the two individuals to be married, but also the broader family units.2 It is good to be prepared before you meet a family with a different culture than your own, and by doing research and communicating with your partner, you can be ready.
Meeting the Family If You Are Both “Out” in a Homosexual Relationship
Before meeting the family, clarify with your partner that their family is comfortable with your partner’s sexuality. If they are, then the aforementioned suggestions in this article should still apply. If not, then be respectful and try not to get angry or upset if the family is unkind or distant. If you give it time and remain polite and friendly, hopefully they will warm up to you and your partner’s sexual orientation, as well as your relationship. While meeting the family, it might be best to avoid open displays of affection, because it may aggravate the current situation or upset your partner’s family members. It is possible that someone will say rude or hurtful things to you or your partner, and it is important to be prepared for that circumstance. Try your best to not take it personally and maintain a calm composure; displaying a negative reaction may only create more stress for your partner. The best strategy is to be respectful and patient, and support your partner through this difficult time in whatever way you can. Communicate openly and honestly with each other about how this situation makes you feel, and hope that the family changes their mind as our society grows more friendly to homosexual relationships. That being said, if at any point you feel uncomfortable, attacked, or in danger, you have every right to politely excuse yourself from the situation.
Meeting the Family If You Are Not Both “Out” in a Homosexual Relationship
If you and your partner are not “out” in your relationship, but your partner still wants you to meet their family, then you are going to have to approach the situation in a delicate manner. Try not to feel like you are hiding something from them; everyone comes out at their own pace and it is okay to keep this relationship private for now. If your partner introduces you as their “friend,” try not to feel offended, and know that it is necessary for the time being. Try to avoid any public displays of affection, and do your best to genuinely act like you are just a friend of your partner. Think of it as a special occasion that your partner is asking you to meet their family when you both are not “out.” It most likely means that you are very special to your partner. Remember to approach this first meeting with a positive attitude, and be able to adapt to any given situation that may come up. Talk to your partner about what you will say about your “friendship,” and have some guidelines going into the first meeting. Additionally, remember that if your partner asks you to meet their parents but you do not feel comfortable doing so since you are not “out” as a couple, it is perfectly okay to say no; honest and open communication is key.
If Meeting the Family Does Not Go Well
Sometimes things do not go as planned and the first meeting with the family might have gone poorly. If this is the case, try not to worry about it, and remember that next time can always go better. If something serious happened, it may be wise to apologize, and realize that personalities can sometimes clash. It is best to understand that you do not have to be extremely close with the family, but it is important to at least remain cordial with them. If you are very committed to your partner, and they are close with their family, it is going to be important that you and their family do not despise each other. The first meeting may have gone poorly, but that does not necessarily mean your partner’s family does not like you. You may want to make an attempt to quickly meet with them again and try to redeem yourself and start fresh. Perceptions can change, and you can prove to them over time that you are a good person and a good partner. Talk with your partner about how the meeting made you feel; they may be able to help ease the situation.
If Your Partner Does Not Want You to Meet their Family
While meeting your partner’s family can be a wonderful experience, families can also be very complicated. Not everyone is emotionally close with their family, and it is possible that your partner might not feel comfortable introducing you to them for a variety of reasons. If your partner does not want you to meet their family, it is important to respect their wishes and to not force the issue. Most likely, there is a reason why they feel this way, so trust your partner and let them open up to you about it in their own time. If the issue is really bothering you, respectfully ask about their reasoning behind their decision, without necessarily needing details if your partner is not comfortable sharing them. It may just be a timing issue, and your partner’s family may be going through some deep problems at the moment. If meeting your partner’s family is important to you, communicate that to your partner and ask them if you can meet them at a later time or when things are more stable. Overall, the most important thing to do is to be patient and maintain open communication with your partner about this intimate issue and to be respectful of their comfort zone.
All in all, meeting the family can be a crucial moment in a relationship. Following some or most of these guidelines may give you a greater chance at having a successful first meeting. Remember that your partner’s family will understand if you are nervous, and that most likely the important thing to them is getting to know you. After all, you all have one very important thing in common: loving your partner! Every situation is different and you should try to adjust and do what is right for your particular situation. Make sure to be respectful and considerate of the family, but most importantly be true to yourself and stay genuine. Even if the first time you meet the family it goes poorly, that is okay. Try to stay relaxed and do better next time. If you are trying, they will see that you do feel strongly about building not only a good relationship with them, but with your partner. Ultimately, your partner’s family just wants their loved one to be with someone who will treat them right. If they see that you make your partner happy, there is a good chance that they will like you just based off of that. Meeting the family is a very big moment, but it is a moment that you can be prepared for, especially if you follow these tips!
- Buunk, A. P., J. H. Park, and L. A. Duncan. “Cultural Variation in Parental Influence on Mate Choice.” Cross-Cultural Research 44.1 (2010): 23-40.
- Macdonald, G., T. C. Marshall, J. Gere, A. Shimotomai, and J. Lies. “Valuing Romantic Relationships: The Role of Family Approval Across Cultures.” Cross-Cultural Research 46.4 (2012): 366-93.
Last Updated: 2 May 2019.