Your Holiday Guide to Winning Over the In-Laws

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January 24, 2020

How to Win Over Your In-Laws During the Holidays

It’s the holiday season … know what that means? If you’re in a new or blossoming relationship, there’s a good chance you’ll be meeting the in-laws, chit-chatting and gnawing on dry fruitcake as a yule log crackles on a nearby TV.

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Whether we admit it to ourselves or not, nobody likes meeting the parents of the person we’re dating. Frankly, we only do it because it makes our partner happy, and it better make them real happy because the pressure we feel during this first encounter is huge. Not unlike a job interview, you must always be on your game. You’ve got to sell yourself by looking spiffy and answering questions with top quality level perfection, all while being charming as f*ck. You are ultimately selling yourself as a product that makes their child’s life better. It’s no simple feat.

To help you turn on the charm, we consulted with etiquette coach Mindy Lockard and Maria Sullivan, dating expert & VP of Dating.com, as well as a few vocal fellows who shared the strategies that won over their in-laws.

The key? Get it done and over with. After all, with this guide, you’ve got nothing to worry about. And remember: You don’t have to like them, but they have to like you.

How to Win Over Your In-Laws During the Holidays

The Pre-Game

Learning about the in-laws should begin long before your first encounter, and any intel you can gather is vital. “It is helpful to sit down with your significant other ahead of time and ask questions that can help you better interact with their family,” says Sullivan.

As for Lockard, she suggests you “do your research” by asking questions “about traditions, favorite activities and what the family typically wears to festivities.”

One of the best ways to connect with others is to search for stories from their life – it’s how we get to know people. “Ask your [partner] what his/her parents love to talk about or stories they have been told over and over,” she adds. “When you speak to the sweet spots and act interested, you build a connection, which builds trust — where every relationship begins.”

Remember to steer clear from taboo topics like religion, politics, sex and money. As this is your first meeting, you should also mind your language (at least before gauging whether they’re a curse-friendly household).

“Sometimes when we get nervous and want to make a good impression we end up over-talking and not listening to learn about other people,” notes Lockard. Try to listen more and talk less.

What Gift Should You Bring?

If the in-laws are hosting you and your partner, bringing a gift is a given. It’s what to gift that can be difficult to decide on, and unfortunately, there is no one-size fits all option.

“You want to give a gift that speaks to what your host enjoys or will help ease the stress of the holiday,” states Lockard. “You always want to ask your SO what they enjoy and what you can bring to contribute to the meal to assist in your efforts.”

If you want to go with a standard, easy to please welcoming gift of wine or flowers, select the former. “Make sure what you bring doesn’t require additional steps or a mess,” she continues, saying flowers need to be put in water and arranged, which takes the host away from their duties. Similarly, bringing a complicated dish that takes up valuable counter, oven or fridge space should also be avoided.

If they have a pooch, earn extra brownie points by bringing Fido a gift. “When I first met my in-laws, I brought their dog some toys and treats and his family loved me for it,” shares Dan, 32, while Joshua, 29, brought his mother-in-law “for breakfast one morning and had a one-on-one.”

“I expressed my intention and how I am the right person for her family,” he recalls, adding that she “embraced” him after the meal.

The Moment of Truth

You’ve done the research, purchased the gift and now it’s time to face the folks. Are you ready to turn on that charm?

First, prioritize being attentive to your partner. This is the best and biggest opportunity to show your in-laws that their child is in good hands. Don’t blow this by ignoring, belittling (even in a joking way) or arguing with your partner. Now is not the time! If you do or say something negative, they are going to wonder how much worse it is when it is when they’re not around. That being said, don’t overdo it with the affection, either. Too much PDA is gross, and as Sullivan says, “No one likes to watch their child excessively kiss their partner at the dinner table.”

Next, always offer to help. “Offer to set the table, pitch-in in the kitchen and always help clean up,” says Lockard. “If you’ve stayed over, ask about sheets and towels and make sure the space is as tidy (or more tidy) than you found it.” Oh, and put your damn phone away. Even if the family is watching a movie, being on your phone communicates disinterest. “If you have work, communicate in advance and make time to step away to take care of business so you can return ready to engage,” recommends Lockard.

These next few suggestions may seem obvious, but being under the microscope means you shouldn’t give them anything to prod at.

This includes dining manners. “Cut with a knife and fork, put your napkin on your lap when the hostess does, wait to start eating until the host takes the first bite, don’t talk with food in your mouth and try to check your posture keeping from leaning over your food or putting arms on the table,” says Lockard, adding you should also be mindful of your alcohol consumption. “Often when we get nervous we can over-drink,” she warns.

And of course, dress to impress. That means showing up in something that’s not wrinkled from the bottom of your laundry basket. “The way you dress shows how you carry yourself,” notes Sullivan. “Dressing nice for the occasion lets your partner's family know that you are serious about the introduction.”

Hopefully, with this expert knowledge, the in-laws will be fawning over you like the wisemen did baby Jesus. Your in-laws want to know that you love and cherish their child and most of all, that you make them happy.

If your partner is someone you see yourself marrying, if or when you tie the knot, you’re marrying their family, too. And in this scenario, there’s a good chance they’re just as nervous as you are.

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