Meeting your in-laws for the first time can be a scary and nerve-racking ordeal, even if you are a prince.
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And surely, there was a feeling of pressure when Markle met her fiancé’s in-laws – you know, the entire British royal family.
But whether you’re a prince, princess-to-be or a commoner, meeting the in-laws can surely make anyone a little nervous, especially since that meeting is such an important one, says relationship expert Shannon Tebb of Shanny in the City.
“Generally, people can make an assumption within the first three minutes of meeting someone if they like them or not,” she says. “First impressions are everything – it’s the first memory you have of this person, so it better be a good one.”
And those first impressions are unlikely to change from bad to good, and that adds to the pressure (though there is a chance of them changing when someone has a neutral impression of you), says Jessica O’Reilly, host of the Sex with Dr. Jess podcast.
Also, if the family dynamics don’t flow, this can put a strain on a relationship, Tebb adds.
This is why you want to show extra caution on the first meeting, says Chantal Heide, relationship expert with Canada’s Dating Coach.
“Every little interaction between you and your partner, or you and your in-laws, will be intensely studied,” she says. “You’re definitely under the microscope, not to mention simultaneously walking into the lion’s den, since not only are they studying your behaviours but also looking to see if you will respect their authority and position in their child’s life.”
So what is one to do if they want to win over their mother- and father-in-law to be?
Try these few tricks laid out by Tebb, O’Reilly and Heide.
Do your research
All three agree: doing your research is important.
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“Ask your partner for a bit of background with regards to their interests and passions,” O’Reilly says. “You don’t have to pretend to be interested in rare plants to seem more attractive, but showing some interest and asking questions — and genuinely listening to what they have to say — will make you more likeable.
This might include knowing your partner’s parents’ culture, Heide says. In today’s multicultural relationship environment, Heide says learning their background and how to respect them is part of this.
When meeting your in-laws, show up to the gathering early and with a welcome gift.
According to O’Reilly, you will be seen as more likeable if you’re waiting for someone than if they’re waiting for you.
As for a welcome gift, try a bottle of their favourite alcohol. Tebb says this shows great etiquette as you went out of your way to purchase the gift.
Next, put your hand out to shake first, Heide adds.
This shows your willingness to bridge the gap right away and that you’re actively stepping forward to be welcomed into the family.
You might not be a royal, but it’s always better to dress up too much than not enough, O’Reilly says. Also, mind your manners and be aware of how you communicate.
If you see your mother-in-law doing dishes or setting the table, offer to help them out, Heide says.
“Actively look for ways to help out, too,” Heide says. “If the dishes are being cleared or something is being moved, offering to give a hand will speak volumes about your level of altruism, work ethic and respect for others.”
Don’t be afraid to tell a funny joke and get your in-laws laughing, Tebb says.
“Be complimentary as well,” she suggests. “For example, tell the mother how beautiful her outfit is and how amazing dad’s steaks were.”
But don’t forget to share the floor.
“You want to hear from them and vice versa,” Tebb says. “Practice active listening, maintain eye contact and nod your head so that it shows you are engaged in the conversation.”
Be attentive to your partner
“This is the biggest opportunity to show your in-laws how much their child’s well-being is in good hands,” Heide says. “Don’t blow this by ignoring, belittling — even in a joking way — or fighting with your partner.”
By showing your willingness to attend to the smaller detail, your in-laws are more likely to trust you’ll be able to handle the bigger ones in your relationship, too, Heide adds.
Lastly, follow up the meet and greet with a warm email thanking them for dinner, Tebb says.
And don’t forget to mention how great it was to meet them and that you look forward to the next visit.