10 Tips To Surviving The Holidays With Your Partner's Family

The holidays are a time of many family gatherings and outings with our loved ones, friends, and colleagues. If you’re approaching the holidays this year in a brand new relationship (or just getting to know someone more seriously), you might find yourself invited to an event where you’ll meet your partner’s family, friends, or kids for the first time. There can be a lot of pressure on you to get this interaction right - and it can have big consequences (positive or negative) for the future of your relationship.

We’ve compiled 10 ways you can make the best impression and set your relationship up for success well into the new year.

1. Be well-groomed and appropriately dressed

If this is the first time you’re meeting your partner’s friends, parents, or children, make a good first impression by being clean (and smelling nice) when you arrive. Make sure your clothes are washed and wrinkle-free, wear a clean pair of socks (in case you may need to remove your shoes) or bring a pair of house slippers to change into. Brush your teeth and comb or style your hair. If you need a haircut, go the weekend before dinner to allow a few days of settling before you make your debut. Also be mindful of the temperature of your dinner venue- if it’s outside, you may need to plan ahead or bring a jacket. If you are indoors, being able to remove layers easily may be in your best interest. When it doubt, ask your partner for the dress code a week or so in advance so you can dress appropriately.

2. Use the restroom before you go to dinner

How many times have you been in an important situation (like a job interview or work meeting) when nature calls? As silly as it may sound, your first experience with your partner’s family can leave a lasting impression, so it’s important to account for the human aspects of your evening- including potentially embarrassing or uncomfortable bathroom trips. If you have a sensitive or nervous stomach, this can be even more important to remember. As an added touch, you may want to bring some antacids or over the counter chewable medicine in the event of an upset stomach. Avoid foods that might be too greasy or spicy for your gut.

3. Bring an appropriate gift for the hosts

Typical gifts that you may offer the hosts of a holiday dinner include: a bouquet of flowers, a bottle of wine and cheese plate, a tin of cookies or box of candy, gift baskets with popcorn or tea/cocoa mix, or an ornament or other holiday decorations. If your partner’s family are expert sommeliers, you may want to be strategic and purchase something that falls outside of their expertise, like flowers. Consider the venue, event, and your budget before committing to any purchase. Consult with your partner as well to gain an inside perspective on what the hosts may appreciate most.

4. Be friendly

When you arrive at the venue for the event, greet your hosts (and other guests) with a warm and inviting attitude. Use open body language, strong eye contact and smile. Shake hands confidently or offer a hug if you’re comfortable. Young children (6yo and under) can respond well to a high-five; older kids and teens will appreciate a wave and simple hello. Sharing holiday greetings is one way that you can have ‘something to say’ to everyone without needing to do too much prep- phrases like “Happy Thanksgiving” or “Merry Christmas!” are almost always appreciated.

When there might be a lull in the conversation, ask a relevant question with a personal connection to the speaker - like “How did you find your field of study/work?” or “When did you move into this neighborhood? Do you like it here?”

5. Talk to people other than your partner

Depending on the size of the event that you’re attending, chances are you may be carted around and introduced to many people. While this can be overwhelming, make an effort to remember names, key facts, or compliments that you can pay to each person you encounter. Throughout the evening, break away from your partner (in increments of 5-10 minutes) and speak to their friends, family members, or kids on your own. Use the tidbits you collected earlier to break the ice - talk about the things that you might have in common with them to build a sense of connection and community at the event. If all else fails, you can speak about your relationship with your partner and ask the other party to share their own anecdotes. Not only will it offer you more insight into the world of your partner, but it serves as an opportunity to let their loved ones know how much they mean to you, too.

6. Avoid controversial topics (politics, religion, how to prepare mac n cheese)

At the dinner table, it’s not unlikely that someone will bring up a topic that has the potential to ruffle some feathers. Despite your instinct, best practices for your first meeting with your partner’s family or friends is to hold your opinion to yourself calmly. While discussions within the established group might flare, remember you are the newest member- in essence, you’re still in a probationary period where your best behavior is being monitored. Avoid talking about topics that might raise your blood pressure or lead to awkward pauses in the conversation. If you are pressed to share your opinion, you can diffuse the situation by redirecting the conversation back to a more neutral topic, or simply say “Thank you, but I’d prefer to focus on (new topic).”

7. Limit PDA

This may not have crossed your mind before, but it’s important to know ahead of time that you might need to dial back the amount of physical affection you share with your partner at a holiday event. If you are going to be having dinner with their grandparents, a good rule of thumb is “don’t do anything that you wouldn’t want to see their grandparents do”. This includes passionate kissing, touching body parts, cuddling, playful wrestling or spanking, etc. If you are attending a holiday event at your partner’s job, remember that their colleagues and bosses may be monitoring their behavior as well, which can have more serious consequences. For a few hours, limit yourself to respectful and tasteful affection - speak with your partner about what’s acceptable on the car ride over to the event.

8. Stay off your cell phone - be present

One sure way to isolate yourself at a holiday event is to keep your eyes glued to your mobile phone. If you have a special circumstance where one of your loved ones is ill or otherwise requires your attention, or if you have small children who are staying with a sitter, communicate that to your partner and the hosts ahead of time. Checking our phones is a habit for many people, but it can make you miss out on important moments that happen in real life. If you have many friends or family who wish you well on the holidays, you can give them a heads up that you’ll be busy for a few hours and set your phone on silent until the event is over.

9. Ask questions / don’t talk only about yourself

While you’re interacting and conversing with the hosts and guests, be sure to use questions to keep the conversation engaging and spirited. When there might be a lull in the conversation, ask a relevant question with a personal connection to the speaker - like “How did you find your field of study/work?” or “When did you move into this neighborhood? Do you like it here?” There are lists available online of ‘getting-to-know-you” questions if you’re feeling stumped- study these ahead of time to have a short list ready to go. On average, people spend 60% of conversations speaking about themselves - so use that in your favor and become a master conductor of conversation.

10. Offer to help (in the kitchen / with the kids / with cleanup)

One of the ways you can increase your ‘significant other’ value in the eyes of your partner’s friends, family, and kids is to make yourself useful. Holiday events (especially dinners) involve a lot of cooking - and a lot of cooking normally calls for a lot of cleaning afterward. Ask your host if you can be a helping hand in the kitchen with a simple task like peeling potatoes, preparing the table, or baking rolls. If this is not possible, offer to help pack up leftover food, take down decorations, or supervise the backyard touch football game after dinner. Ingratiating yourself and becoming a part of the system that makes the holiday successful will leave a strong and positive impression on your partner and their loved ones.

The holidays are an important and memorable time of year no matter what culture you come from, and positive moments with family are some of the most treasured and long-lasting memories we can make. This year, you have an opportunity to play a part in a new series of holiday memories- not only for your significant other, but their friends, families, and children as well. Do what you can to make these moments positive, and you’ll be laying the foundation for a relationship that can stand the test of time - and Black Friday Shopping.