Whether you’re about to marry your one and only, or just know in your heart of hearts that you’ll be spending the near and far future together, helping your partner feel comfortable with your family is a must. Even if you don’t live close to your families, it’s important that your partner feels comfortable spending time with the people whom you feel most comfortable around, especially since family time usually increases as relationships mature. It may seem daunting, but with these easy tips and tricks, integrating your partner into your family will be nothing to stress about. And remember: It’s just as important that you feel comfortable around your partner’s family, so make sure they work just as hard as you are to help make that happen!
Here are five ways to help your partner go from shy and nervous to totally confident around your family.
Make hangouts casual.
For some couples, the only times they have family exposure is during big-deal events like holidays and weddings (and for other couples still, their own wedding is the only time they’ve spent real time with their in-laws-to-be!). These events are already high-pressure for most families, so expecting your partner to be completely at ease with your fam is a lot. Instead of relying on these heavy-hitting events to make everyone get comfortable with one another, put in effort to organize low-pressure, casual hangouts where everyone is at ease. No gifts, no marathon cooking, no heavy drinking, no dancing—just good, relaxed, getting-to-know-you time. (We’re all at our best selves when we’re in our comfy clothes on the couch, after all.) If you live far from your family, use up a few more vacay days to pad holiday visits with casual downtime, or plan a long weekend visit during a shoulder season. Things like TV nights, casual dinners out, family jogs, etc., are perfect examples of casual hangouts.
Keep everyone in the loop.
While your family and your partner know everything there is to know about you, they likely don’t know a lot about each other—which is why the conversation likely usually is about you. This default can prevent both parties from feeling comfortable with each other and feeling like they can have organic conversations like friends might. So, do the work to keep your family and partner informed about what’s going on in the other’s respective lives. Telling your parents a few details about what your partner’s been up to during your weekly phone calls, for example, or keeping your partner up to date on your parents’ latest antics will help conversation flow naturally and make both parties feel empowered to ask personal questions and take personal interests in one another. Something as simple as letting your partner know your parents just got back from Italy, when he studied abroad there a few years ago, can uncover some common ground that’ll make everyone feel closer.
Manage your expectations.
It’s easy to forget, but make it your mantra: My family does not have to become my partner’s family. Yes, sitcoms would have us believe your in-laws should basically become an extension of your own family, but here in the real world, it’s totally OK if your partner doesn’t have your dad on speed dial or doesn’t hang with your brother twice a week. Because families are weird, complex, always evolving—most of us will never feel quite “in” with our partners’ families, and that’s natural. Establishing a level of comfort where your partner no longer feels like a guest and feels no anxiety about keeping up a conversation with your fam when you leave the room? Now that’s what you should be aiming for. And that’s a much more achievable goal than, “You have to feel 100 percent a part of my family or else!” Be sure to give your partner space and time to ease their way into this relationship, and don’t expect them to make this their full-time project—because, once again, your family doesn’t have to be theirs!
Keeping your partner in the loop about details like where, when, how long, and who from your family will be at an event will keep things comfortable. I know I’m guilty of taking my husband to a family dinner that turns into a movie that turns into ice cream that turns into more sitting around at the house, and that can make him feel like pretty anxious (rightfully so!). To help your partner cut down on the family anxiety, make sure the itinerary of every hangout is clearly laid out for your partner, so they know exactly what to expect and exactly how long they’ll be in family mode. Obviously as your relationship goes on and your partner becomes more and more embedded in your family, this rule can become more flexible. But early on, as everyone is getting used to each other, keeping the hangout planned and keeping everyone in the loop about what those plans are can make everyone feel more in control.
Don’t leave them to fend for themselves.
You may feel perfectly comfortable sitting in your family’s living room gossiping about the neighbors and doing a face mask, but your partner simply won’t have that level of ease when they’re first getting to know your family—or even after knowing them for a while. Remember, you’ve spent most of your life with these people, but to your partner, they’re still cameos in his or her life! So don’t think of this as your partner’s job exclusively—you’re just as involved in making them feel like a part of the family as your partner is in putting in the effort. Try to stay present in group situations and throw them a helpline if they seem to be getting shy, facilitate conversation over shared interests only you know about, and don’t set them up on hangouts that you won’t be present for (even if you’re positive your partner would looooove fly fishing with your uncle Jim). As with so many moments in your relationship, especially once you embark on marriage, you’ll be successful in this endeavor if you treat it as a partnership rather than one person’s responsibility. It’s not all your job to make your partner feel at ease with your fam, and it’s not all your family’s job, and it’s not all your partner’s job—it’s everyone’s! The good news? Everyone benefits, too.