You’ve found a wonderful guy, you’re excited about the wedding, and now you get to meet… your future in-laws. Oh boy. This probably wasn’t part of the dream wedding plans you had since you were a kid. Most girls don’t fantasize about the dress they want to wear, their immaculate floral bouquet, and how politely they’ll get along with their husband’s mom.
It’s a big deal to meet your partner’s family and understandable to be a little nervous. That just means you need to be prepared. By knowing a few tips, you’ll be able to be confident and stay true to the wonderful person your partner fell in love with, no matter how the in-laws react.
Do your research
Make sure you know a bit about the parents before you ever meet them. And by a bit, I mean a lot. Learn about their interests, especially things they love that your partner isn’t really into. If the mother loves the ballet and the son has always hated it, she’s likely to form a good bond with you over your mutual affection for Baryshnikov.
Also, learn how to manage your stress. If you know you tend to get tongue tied or anxious when meeting new people, practice breathing exercises to keep you calm. I interviewed Dr. Farrah Hauke, Psy.D., Licensed Psychologist and she suggested, “Breathe in through your nose, hold for 3 seconds, and out through your mouth.” This gives you a break from your anxious thoughts and keeps you relaxed.
Get ready to talk
Your in-laws will probably have a lot of questions for you. You’re going to be their new daughter, after all! Sometimes, a barrage of questions can feel like an attack, and you’ll start getting defensive. Be prepared to talk about yourself, your life, why you love their son, and all of that. Though getting ready to talk about yourself seems simple, it’s surprising how easy it is to freeze up when someone asks “So, tell me something about you.” Psychology professor Rosanna Guadagno, PhD, says “Questions are a sign of interest in your work, not an attack of it.”
Ask them questions
Not all in-laws are alike. Some have a never ending list of questions, while others can stare at you in stoney silence. If they are the strong and silent types, ask them questions. Not just “how was your day” or “so, how do you like having a son?” Try to show genuine interest in their lives and history as a family.
Ask them to share stories of when your partner was little. The fact you want to know about family history shows that you really care — and plus, no parent can resist telling an embarrassing poop-related story about their kid. If that doesn’t work, or they run out of childhood tales, ask them for advice. Giving advice makes people feel intelligent, wise, and wanted. Ask what made their marriage last so long, or ask them to tell you about something they wished they did on their wedding or honeymoon. You’re showing that their opinion matters to you, which would make anyone feel good!
Avoid confirmation bias
If your partner has said nothing but how difficult his parents are, you’re more likely to think they’re being rude when they haven’t done anything. Confirmation bias means you’ll find clues to confirm what you think you already know to be true. So, it’s possible to take the slightest offense and use that to write the parents off as mean or not liking you. You have to go into the meeting as a blank slate and let the parents make their own impression.
Also, remember that the parents are nervous, too. If they are a little stilted or cold, it might be because they’re sad their child is growing up and hate admitting he’s not their little boy anymore. Or perhaps his last girlfriend was a disaster and they’re on guard. There are so many things that can influence their behavior that have nothing to do with you, so go in with a good attitude and remember it’s not just about you.
Go into this as a partner
You’re not going into this in-law meeting alone. You have a partner! Make sure you communicate with him that you are nervous and might need a little help along the way. He’ll be able to start conversations with his parents more easily and help relax you into the situation. Mostly, he can help communicate that you are a wonderful, lovable person. According to Dr. Deanna Bran, PhD, “He needs to reflect in his words, body language, and so on that he agrees with and supports you.”
Get rid of expectations
If you’ve plotted out how you’re going to run to your new parents with open arms and be immediately welcomed into this new family like the perfect daughter-in-law they always dreamed of, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Whether you expect it to be great or terrible, your preconceived notions make the whole affair more difficult. Just go in knowing that you are the person your partner loves and you’re going to show that person to his family. Then, whether they respond warm or coldly, you know you’ve presented your best self and that’s all you can possibly do.
If you’re feeling like you can’t control your anxious expectations, you can use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques to help you get a better grasp of the situation. Dr. Hauke asked, “Are you telling yourself that the situation will be negative or positive? Are you presuming that you know the future and can read someone’s mind? If so, try asking yourself, are my thoughts about this situation realistic or helpful? If they’re not, it’s time to re-evaluate and change your thinking!”
They don’t have to like you
Of course we’d all prefer to have a stellar relationship with our in-laws, but based on the mother-in-law stereotypes alone, that doesn’t always happen. It’s important to remember, they don’t have to love you. Honestly, they don’t even have to like you. All that matters is that your future husband loves and supports you no matter what his family thinks.
If you’ve been nothing but polite and you get back toxic behavior from his parents, it’s okay. Some people are just jerks. Yvonne K. Fulbright Ph.D. says, “You don’t need anyone’s approval to live your life the way you want to. Don’t drive yourself crazy trying to get the thumbs up from your in-laws.”
That doesn’t mean you need to have a contentious relationship, but if you’re putting out warmth and they’re not giving it back, well, keep it a cool relationship. Being civil with his parents is really all you need and, again, as long as you and your partner love and care for each other, that’s all that really matters.
You’ve already won
Meeting in-laws will always be a nerve-wracking experience, but with these tools, hopefully, it will be a bit easier. You don’t need to change anything about yourself in order to impress this future side of the family. The biggest thing to remember is you already won over the most important person, so this part is easy!