How to meet his parents for the first time

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Nothing puts pressure on a hot new relationship like going home to meet the parents. Relationship expert and family therapist Rachel Sussman has advice for taking the stress out of meeting his family for the first time.

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  • Rachel Sussman LCSW

    Rachel Sussman LCSW Marriage and Family Therapist Rachel Sussman, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker and marriage/family therapist. She has helped people improve their emotional well being, enhance their ability to engage in interpersonal relationships, and take control of their lives. more about this expert »

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How to meet his parents for the first time Meeting the parents over the holidays can be stressful on its own--bringing a new boyfriend or girlfriend elevates the tension. Rachel Sussman has tips for making the meeting a little smoother.
  • Communicate to your partner what to expect specifically. Set the table--what kind of family you have and how they celebrate the holiday.
  • Be a unit when you arrive. Don't abandon your partner when they are nervous or uncomfortable, but stay by their side and introduce them around.
  • If the nerves feel overwhelming beforehand, it's okay to role-play the situation.
  • Stress is elevated many times because the new couple feels they have to have approval from the family. There is fear that if the meeting doesn't go just right, the relationship is doomed. But if the partner communicates clearly what you are walking into, then you should be able to play the social setting more confidently.
  • Listen to his advice on meeting his parents, especially when there may be a personality conflict with one or both of his parents. Dial down any personality quirks that might give them the wrong impression. Don't be the loudmouth, for example, in that setting even if you usually are.
  • When meeting the parents it's important to have confidence. Remember to be charming and gage people's personalities. Be helpful and friendly.
Transcript

DENISE: Hi there I'm Denise Richardson for howdini. You know the holidays are very stressful, especially if you're hooking up with the in-laws or the future in-laws. We're going to talk about that now with a relationship therapist Rachel Sussman. Tell us why it's so stressful to meet for the first time during the holidays or to get together during the holidays.

RACHEL: Well if you're meeting your potential or future in-laws or your boyfriend or girlfriend's parents for the first time often times it does happen over the holidays because families get together even when they live very far apart and that's a cause of anxiety and stress for a lot of people. I mean think about it. For many of us seeing your family alone is difficult, let alone bringing a boyfriend or girlfriend or future husband or wife into the picture. That really could be a cause of a lot of tension and stress.

DENISE:You know what's amusing about that--I guess I've seen it in the movies and it happens in so many people's homes--the families are at each other. And then Harold the new guy is sitting at the table and it's so uncomfortable.

RACHEL: Absolutely. And Harold is thinking now what did I just get myself into and Harold's girlfriend is thinking oh my god. Harold might not like my parents. My parents might not like him. Maybe this is doomed to fail; we shouldn't be together.

DENISE: So what do you do to alleviate those kinds of problems in that kind of a social setting with so many people involved?

RACHEL: Well I think that when you are meeting your boyfriend's or your fiance's parents for the first time good communication is really important. The couple should sit down and you should explain to your partner what kind of family you're like, what mom and dad is like, what the traditional Christmas or Hanukah dinner is going to be like. Really set the table for them. Tell them what it's all going to look like and be like. So that in itself will make the person calm down a little bit.

DENISE: You know something if you get that invitation to dinner and meet the family, you think oh I guess he really likes me. He's introducing me to the family, I guess we're moving ahead.

RACHEL:And that's why there's even more stress and tension because you think that's coming and you really want his brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and grandparents to love you.

DENISE:Yeah but what if he's just the kind of guy that brings a nice girl home to dinner?

RACHEL: Every time a different one? Well there are definetely people like that who are gluttons for punishment. That's for sure. But, I think the most important things is that the couple looks at themselves as a unit. And when they go in and you're introducing your partner around, you know, don't set them up to fail. Tell them about the family. Tell them about the personalities involved. Give them a glowing introduction. Check up on them from time to time. Don't hang them out to dry. Make sure they're going to be okay.

DENISE: Your own behavior, even though someone can set the stage for you. You may be someone who's uncomfortable within themselves.

RACHEL: Or a shy person.

DENISE: Or a shy person. So how do you overcome that in a strange setting?

RACHEL: Well you know something you can do, it may sound a little silly, but role-play with a friend. You can talk to a friend, you can say have you ever done something like this before. What's it like. How can I feel more comfortable. You can talk to your partner. You can say you know I'm a shy person. You know I have social anxiety. Please be sure to stick with me, not leave me alone.

DENISE: What happens if the relationship meeting doesn't go well?

RACHEL:That could be a little bit problematic. And one of the reasons we're so nervous when we are meeting our potential in-laws is that if it doesn't go well, will this person not love us anymore, not want to marry us anymore. But sometimes it doesn't go well. I had a couple I worked with recently and it wasn't a good situation at all. The potential father in law happened to be a very argumentative, always has to be right sort of a guy and the future daughter in law is an argumentative, always has to be right sort of a gal. They really clashed. In a situation like that, the guy should have said to his girlfriend, let me warn you about my dad. He's the king of the castle. He always has to be right. And he really expects that we let him be right. You might have to dial down your personality a little bit for this one holiday event.

DENISE: I like that expression dial down. Briefly, two things that a person needs to do. You're taking someone home for the holidays and you want to introduce them. What do they do?

RACHEL: You need to speak to your partner. Tell them about the setting. Tell them what your family is like. Warn them what they're walking into and ease them into the situation. That's the most important thing. And for the person who meeting the family for the first time, you have to have confidence, you have to have charm, you have to play the social setting well. Gage people's personalities. Be helpful, clear the table. Be charming.

DENISE: Rachel Sussman thank you very much. There's a lot of people who are going to feel a lot better because of your advice.

RACHEL: I hope so thanks Denise.

DENISE: I'm Denise Richardson for howdini.


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