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As if finding “the one” wasn’t hard enough, now you have to convince your future in-laws that you’re the best candidate for the biggest job they’ve likely ever interviewed someone for: marrying their child. Of course, it can be equally nerve-wracking as it is exciting, but remember that your partner adores you and chose you for a reason, so his or her parents are more likely than not to follow suit!
To help you navigate the new introduction, we asked top relationship experts how to score a rave review.
Remember: They want to like you!
Despite the exaggerated scenes in movies like Meet the Parents or Monster-in-Law, your S.O.’s parents are actually rooting for you—they’re on your team! “They want what’s best for their child, and if that means you, they want to love you,” says Celeste Holbrook, Ph.D., sexual health consultant and educator. “They’ll be looking for reasons to think you’re the bee’s knees, so just show up and shine!” In other words, be yourself and let your partner’s decision to be with you make them proud.
Feel confident about how you look
Remember, first impressions stick, so take the time to select an outfit that’s appropriate for the occasion. But don’t go overboard and wear something totally out of character that you feel uncomfortable in the entire day or evening. “It is more important that you feel good about your appearance than anything else, because if you feel good, you will also feel more confident and less nervous,” says Dawn Michael, PhD, clinical sexologist, relationship expert and author.
Bring a gift or a dish
This likely won’t be something you’ll have to do each and every time you see his 'rents (though, bonus points if you do!), it’s a nice gesture when you’re meeting them for the first time. “Bake or make something simple that shows off your culinary skills without stepping on your mother-in-law’s toes—an appetizer, or a dessert,” suggests Claudia Six, Ph.D., clinical sexologist, relationship coach and author. If you do decide to make something, do find out if anyone in his or her family has allergies or aversions to be on the safe side.
Come educated about the family
If you haven’t already, ask your partner questions about where his parents and family are from, what type of activities they enjoy, what topics of conversation they like to engage in, etc. This can also help forewarn you about certain hot topics you might want to steer clear of mentioning. “For the first meeting, it’s a good idea to avoid conversation about politics, religion, or any other emotional topics,” says Dr. Holbrook. “You may be able to debate respectfully after you’ve established a relationship with your partner's family, but for the first meeting, it’s best to leave those topics alone.”
Center conversation around them
In addition to knowing their names, some background about where they’re from and what paths their lives have taken, feel free to inquire respectfully about their lives. “Ask them how they met, about when your partner was born, or about their careers,” Dr. Holbrook suggests.“People feel more comfortable when they can talk about something familiar, so give them a chance to relegate that story of your partner pooping in the lazy river at the waterpark at age three—they’ll love it!”
Find a common ground
As topics arise in conversation, feel free to talk about yourself, as well. For example, if his mom says she loves Zumba, feel free to chime in and tell her about your own love of dance. And if his father mentions he loves hand-made furniture, feel free to let him know your father shares a similar interest, and maybe even that he made some of the furniture in your home. “Remember, they want to know about you, as well, without feeling like an interrogation is in session,” says Dr. Six.
Avoid checking email or answering text messages
In our technologically saturated world it’s hard to unplug, but if there’s one time you should stay tech-free and focused it’s when meeting your partner’s parents. “You want them to think of you as someone who pays attention, is happy to be there, and has good social skills—someone whose parents raised you right,” says Dr. Michael. Word to the wise: Keep your phone in your bag, or at least away from the dining room table, until the meal is through.”
Let them know you love their son or daughter
While it might seem forward to gush to them about the love of your life right off the bat, most of the time, it’s what they’re hoping to hear. “In-laws love to hear nice things about their own child,” says Dr. Michael. “It makes them feel like they did a good job raising children—plus, it makes your fiancé(e) feel good to hear you say that in front of his or her parents.” This will also
Look for an opportunity to engage them one on one
If you’re over their home for a meal, offering to clean up and help with the dishes is a great way to score some alone time your partner’s parents. “This helps them get a better sense of you, and you of them,” Dr. Six points out. “This will also demonstrate that you’re not shy and can hold your own without your beloved by your side.” It will also bode well for the next big event—introducing your future in-laws to your own family!