Your Guide to Getting Along With the In-Laws

The holidays are just around the corner, and if you’re spending them with your new significant other’s family, congrats! Meeting the parents is an exciting relationship milestone. It’s also a somewhat nerve-racking experience. You want to make a good impression and be well liked, but what’s the best way to do this? While each family and set of parents is different, there are certain things that you should and should not do. Read on to learn how to get along with the in-laws.

Before you meet the family, ask your better half to tell you about each person. What are their professions? How about their personality types? Is Mom the life of the party? Is Dad really into movies? Find out what things you may have in common as this could lead to talking points—or even serious bonding—during your first meeting. For example, if Mom is a teacher and you work in pharmaceutical sales, you’ll need something besides occupation to bond over. However, if you find out she loves the Harry Potter series and you happen to have owl pajamas because you’re obsessed with it too, use this as a conversation starter.

When you’re getting the 411 on your partner’s family, go ahead and get everything off your chest. Are you worried they won’t take you seriously because their baby went to an Ivy League and you graduated from a state school? Say something ahead of time. Share your fears and anxieties with your significant other, who will, as a result, be better able to diffuse any possible situations. If your in-laws do look down on your alma mater, don’t bring it up in any conversation.

Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Be your natural, happy self. Smile! Their son or daughter loves you, so chances are they will love you too.

Whether you’re staying for a long weekend or simply popping by for appetizers and cocktails, bring a gift. It doesn’t have to be something expensive—just make it tasteful and thoughtful. A good bottle of wine, pretty coasters, a scented candle, and a ceramic teapot are some hostess gifts most hosts will appreciate.

Pay attention to your outfit. Wear something that is age-appropriate and parent-friendly. You want to look put together but not overly professional. It’s not a job interview, so avoid workwear! Don’t show too much cleavage or leg. You can’t go wrong with a long-sleeve dress, or classic white shirt and dark denim jeans. Whatever you wear, be sure you feel comfortable and confident in it.

Tell your significant other’s parents why you love their child. Recount the moment when you met or when you knew you were falling hard. Express your love in words, but not in public displays of affection. It’s okay to drape your arms around each other or hold hands, but being too affectionate will only make the parents feel awkward. Don’t make out or sit on your partner’s lap.

If you feel like things are spiraling downhill or there is a lull in the conversation, give the parents a compliment. Say something like “Pat, your son tells me that you were a well-respected fire chief. I bet you have tons of amazing stories! I would love to hear one.” Or “Margie, this living room is impeccable! I love the combination of a white sofa with purple pillows. What inspired your design scheme?”

Be an active and engaging conversationalist. Ask questions, speak with everyone present, and listen to what is being said. Even shy people should do their best to be a part of the discussion. If you’re worried you won’t have anything to say, come up with five topics or questions before you arrive at your significant other’s parents’ house. Some ideas: Have you seen any good movies lately? What book are you reading? What’s your favorite thing about the holidays? Tell me about your last vacation. Avoid polarizing topics like politics and religion.

If your partner’s parents are hosting you in their home for a meal, ask them if there is anything you can do to help. Offer to set the table, grate cheese, or wash dishes. Staying for the weekend? Pay attention to what everyone is doing. If everyone is carrying in firewood, don’t just sit on the couch reading the latest Us Weekly. Get up and help bring in firewood. Even if they make it clear that they don’t need or want your help, they will appreciate your offer. If you don’t offer to help, they will notice, remember it, and talk about it behind your back. If you’re staying overnight, make your bed in the morning and keep your room tidy. 

Go with the flow and follow the happenings set by the family. If they like to sleep in on weekends, don’t wake up early and make a bunch of noise. If they love to linger at the table after dinner is finished, don’t jump up and start clearing plates. If everyone is upstairs watching a movie or playing a game, don’t hide out downstairs in your room. 

One easy way to ensure you end up in the in-laws’ good graces? Send them a heartfelt, handwritten thank-you note. Not an email—an actual letter. Thank them for warmly welcoming you into their home. Say how much you enjoyed the meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Keep it short and sweet. Never underestimate the power of a few words of kindness in a card.

Shop some of my favorite host-approved gifts below.

What are your tips for meeting the parents?