Some people get along with their partner's family swimmingly. Others not so much. For those in the not-so-much category, family visits can be tense, dispiriting and contentious. Add the pressure of the holidays, and family harmony becomes even more difficult.
"The holidays can be extremely stressful for relationships. There's a lot of pressure with holiday gift-giving and meeting your partner's friends and family," says dating coach Julie Spira. To that end, we've polled the YourTango Experts and pulled together our top nine tips for a successful visit to your partner's family.
1. Prepare. "I highly recommend that couples discuss their expectations for the visit ahead of time with each other," says psychologist Dr. Michelle Gannon. "Let your partner know which traditions and rituals are the most important to you. Your partner does not have to participate in 100 percent of the activities for the visit to be successful."
Dating and relationship coach Marni Battista agrees. "A successful visit to visit your partner's family depends on getting a true understanding of his relationship with them, first," she says. "Finding out how you can best support him while you are visiting is imperative to making the visit fun, free of conflict, and filled with opportunities for them to get you to know you outside of the relationship."
"Beforehand, ask your partner to tell you and the family about each other's interests and any good news," says psychologist Dr. Diana Kirschner. Congratulating Uncle Bob on finishing his PhD or asking his mom how her photography class is going will show that you're making an effort.
Just in case things get out of control, "set up a secret signal between you and your honey that is designed to rescue you out of a situation that you simply can't handle," says dating coach Tristan Coopersmith. "Make it noticeable enough that it is recognizable between the two of you but discreet enough so it can't be detected by any family member."
2. Get a room. "If you're going to be there for a while, don't stay at their house the whole time," recommends marriage educator Cindy Taylor. "Having a room where you and your spouse can get away and breathe is priceless."
3. Be a good guest. This goes without saying, but here are some specifics for how to make it happen. "Be helpful. If you're going for dinner, make sure you ask if they need help in the kitchen or offer to clean up afterwards," says relationship coach Micaela Bubola Passeri.
"If you are the newbie in the family, bring an incredibly thoughtful gift for the occasion, ask questions and listen a lot. Appreciate any and all good things about the meal, the house and the family members and remember to tell them what you enjoyed," says Kirschner.
"If their parents have a favorite flower or holiday tradition, find out in advance," advises Spira. "Bring a hostess gift that isn't over the top, but shows that you care enough to appreciate their hospitality. When the visit is over, send a hand-written personalized note as a thank you card."