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Surviving Your New Partner’s Family this Holiday

A little nervous? Don’t be! Follow a couple of these tips from YourTango, and you’ll be good to go!


1.    Get the inside scoop beforehand. 
This is very important. Before you even go over there, talk to your partner about family dynamics so you can prep yourself for success. Ask your partner who they expect will be there, get their names and descriptions, and ask for some details on key people so you can be better equipped to start conversations. For instance, is cousin Eric the Guitar Hero pro? Does Aunt Maria make the best stuffing west of the Mississippi? Did Uncle Jim just recently achieve a company award or did sister Stacy just come back from a trip to France? Get some details down, and you’ll be sure to impress when you throw them into conversation. Also, ask your partner if there are any other ways in which you should prepare. For instance, will you have to answer 20 questions from Dad? Should you tread lightly on the topic of work around Eric, who recently lost his job? Should you not ask about Aunt Gina’s relationship because it’s “sensitive”? If you know these things beforehand, you can avoid potentially embarrassing and awkward situations that might leave you outside the “circle of trust.”

2.    Dress up, dress classy & dress conservatively.
Your goal is to fit in with the family’s style as much as possible. For men, you can’t really go wrong with a button-down collared shirt and khakis, black slacks or nice jeans. For women, this isn’t the time to let the fam see how sexy you can look or show off your newly-tanned midriff. The look you want to achieve is classy, wholesome, and conservative yet comfortable. Showing any midriff or cleavage or sporting your stilettos and a mini is like a kiss of death to man’s mother. Show him you’re the kind of girl he can bring home to momma by toning it down and wearing a cute and classy dress with a cardigan or nice pants and a sweater if it’s cold.

3.    BRING something to the occasion – the token Guest Gift.
This shows thoughtfulness, appreciation and class. You really can’t go wrong with a bottle of nice red or white wine (don’t go cheapo here, especially in case they’re wine connoisseurs – opt for a bottle in the $15-$40 range, it’s worth it). Pair it with a nice hand-written note thanking them for having you in their home, and perhaps even a small but thoughtful gift such as a plant or flowers. If you’re a woman, bring homemade cookies or dessert (or if you don’t cook, you can buy some, but homemade will give you extra ‘brownie points.”)

4.    Be extra mindful of your manners.
I hate to state the obvious, but you’d be surprised how often these things slip when you’re not realizing it or when you’re so nervous about impressing the fam. As a reminder: Always say please and thank you, don’t get more than one course of food unless everyone else is (and always let family serve themselves first) and keep your space neat! This includes making your bed or the couch in the morning. Don’t sleep in – make sure you’re up at the same time or earlier as everyone else so you’re not known as “Sleepy Sam.”

5.   Offer to Help.
Here’s another big one, and one that lots of mothers often test for (mine especially – this is considered a ‘red flag’ when someone’s poor date forgets to do this!). Offer to help whenever possible. So when they’re cooking the meal, go into the kitchen and ask if there’s anything you could do to help. When they start clearing dishes after the meal, get up and help them clear dishes or sincerely offer to help. Offer to help them clean up afterward or just pick up a sponge yourself and go at it.

6.    Bond with the family.
Make sure you’re friendly and social and talk to every one of the family members (or at least make a genuine effort to).  Twelve-year-old cousin Nicky isn’t any less important and when others see you talking to every person, you’ll score major points. Spend a little time getting to know each person and asking about their interests, connecting with them on some level, and trying to find things in common or that you could offer your knowledge about or bond about. If you keep to yourself or just with your partner, others will definitely take notice and you’ll come across cold and anti-social. I don ‘t care if you’re shy or suffer from “social anxiety,” MAKE AN EFFORT. But of all people you’ll talk to, the key people that are the most important to bond with if you’re a woman are the mother, and sisters; and if you’re a guy, her father and brothers.

7.    Do as the Romans Do.
In other words, FIT IN. If the family is playing football, go out to the field. If it’s their tradition to play Jenga or Scrabble after dinner, happily join in. Don’t try to get a jail out of free card because “you’re in heels” or you “just straightened your hair” or you’re “not a jock.” If you sit out on the sidelines, you stand out and you become the topic of conversation later as to why you refused to join in the family games and tradition. Again its one of those things that you just have to suck up and do if you want to get their approval.

8.    Be Easy & Easygoing.
Don’t be too picky  or difficult with food or make strange demands or have people do extra things for you. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, don’t request that they make you a separate vegetarian dish, unless they volunteer to. If the whole fam is drinking water don’t request a soda or request red wine if the rest of them are drinking white. Just go with the flow and roll with the punches. Now is not the time to have them cater to your ultra-picky demands or idiosyncrasies. Stay with your mission to fit in, and it’ll all be over before you know it.

9. Don’t get sloppy drunk.
I know you’re nervous, but now’s not the time to pound shots and suck back tequila to loosen the nerves. Have a few drinks if that’s what the family’s doing, but keep your wits about you and avoid getting sloppy. Even if the 260 pound Marine Corp uncle is challenging you to see who could slam back more shots of Cuervo, know your limits and if you feel you’re getting close then politely refuse and take a water break.

10.    Conversation – strike a balance.
Don’t be too quiet or know one will get to know you. But you also don’t want to dominate conversations or try too hard to be funny or outgoing, or it’ll turn others off. Talk less then your partner on the whole, and don ‘t go overboard with storytelling or jokes. Subtly is the key, you don’t need to be a one-man stand-up comedy show or the Life of the Party for them to like you. Show you have a sense of humor and that you’re sociable, but remember that this is their family and their holiday, and ultimately you are the outsider. So let them talk more and share stories and news, and know that you don’t need to add your two cents about everything or talk too much about yourself.  Avoid boasting and one-upping people. Also, if your partner has any news or recent accomplishments to share with the family, let your partner be the one to share it first; don’t do it for them. Don’t overstep your boundaries by acting like you’re already a part of the family when you’re still on the outside.

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