Get the 411.
Ask your partner to give you the rundown on the family at least a few days before you show up at the front door. Start with ironing down everyone’s name. “Chances are, the family will only have one name to remember: yours,” says Claudia Six, Ph.D., clinical sexologist and relationship coach. You, on the other hand, will have many names to remember. For this reason, Dr. Six suggests starting before you get there. Get briefed on names and maybe quirky traits about them, to help you memorize who is who.
Bring a gift or a dish.
This likely won’t be something you’ll have to do each and every time, but Dr. Six points out that bringing something for the host is a nice gesture when you’re meeting them for the first time. “Bake or make a simple dish that shows off your culinary skills without stepping on anyone’s toes—an appetizer or a dessert,” she suggests. “These give you something to do when you get there, and make the house smell good.” If you do decide to provide a dish, try finding out ahead of time whether or not anyone has allergies and aversions.
Look for an opportunity to engage in one-on-one convos.
It can be tricky to score some alone time with his family members when you’re at a large gathering, but try to work in conversations with each person or a few small groups of people. “This helps the family get a better sense of you, and you of them,” Dr. Six says. “This will also demonstrate that you’re not shy, can hold your own without your beloved by your side, and are willing to pitch in and be a team player, not a diva who won’t get her hands dirty.”
Find a common ground.
As topics arise, don’t hesitate to talk about yourself. Of course, you’ll want the conversation to feel balanced, but feel free to talk about things you might have in common. “For example, if his mom says she loves Zumba, feel free to chime in and tell her about your own love of dance,” says Dr. Six. “And if his father mentions he loves antique furniture, feel free to let him know your father shares a similar interest.”
Pay attention to yourself in their presence.
Experts agree that this one might be the most important. While your partner’s family may be trying you on, so to speak, you are doing the same with them. Questions Dr. Six recommends asking yourself during and after the holiday event are: Do you feel welcomed, judged, insecure, accepted, not listened to? Are they loud and boisterous while you are quiet and reserved? Are they materialistic and superficial while you have a meditation practice and donate to help others? Are they nosy and gossipy while you are respectful and private? Are they good people despite all that? “This will be information about them for you to be mindful of,” she adds. “You don’t need to change them, just accept them.”