We all like to think there are just two people in a monogamous relationship, but the reality is most of us come with at least a small entourage. We’re not talking about a glam squad or minders for our LV luggage, we’re talking about parents, children, siblings and in-laws. They say that no man is an island and whilst the idea of meeting someone who’s free from all these attachments may sound appealing, the absence of them could also be construed as a little strange. Remember, extended family allows you to see where your partner fits within a unit that is outside of yourself. It’s also an extra mine of love and support, should you ever need it.
Getting the low down
Most people on the first few dates or so will ask about family. Knowing where people are from, who they’ve grown up around and who’s an important influence in their lives, helps to get a picture of who they are. It’s is also a good opportunity to find out what you can expect the first time you’re invited to meet with relatives.
If you come from a small family it can be intimidating to learn that your partner is number six of ten siblings and has regular family get-togethers on a Sunday. Likewise, if your family is extremely close and your partner barely speaks to theirs, you may need to give them time to adjust to the intimate unit you’ve become used to. In these early stages, make no judgements and try not to put pressure on each other. The aim is to get a picture of what family life is like for your partner and to slowly get used to the idea of where you may one day fit amongst that.
Meeting your partner’s family for the first time should be exciting, as it often marks a significant stage in your relationship. Even if you do find it a little daunting, keep in mind that it’s a positive moment for the two of you.
It’s natural once you walk through the door, for even a super confident person, to feel a little judged, sized up, or even as though you’re being compared to the usual sort of person your partner takes home. There are some families that allow outsiders to slide in effortlessly, and others where you definitely have to prove yourself and put in the work beforehand. You’ll know fairly soon which you’re encountering.
In these first stages when you don’t really know each other, the key is to not take things too personally and to be as open as you’re able.
Getting the in-laws together
This is an even bigger moment in a relationship and marks real commitment to one another and the future you intend to create. When parents of both partners come together it can act like a seal and create a unit that is tighter and stronger than ever. Whilst you may find your parents embarrassing or envision your in-laws immediately spotting all their faults, remember that these are the folks you have loved and respected your entire life. You can’t expect someone else to appreciate them for who they are, if you don’t yourself.
If, for whatever reason the meeting is difficult, for example if there are issues of religion, social status, class or age, then stay calm and focused through the intense time. In these situations it’s vital that you and your partner operate as solid and co-operative team captains. Control your own sides and remain mutually clear on the ultimate intention behind arranging the meeting in the first place.
If you want your families to be close and to see each other as friends as well, then it’s a good idea to encourage contact outside of special occasions. Food is usually a great unifier, as long as all palates and cultural preferences are catered for. If there are mutual interests like the theatre or dancing, throw these into the equation as well.
It may take a little bit of time for in-laws to become friends, or they may be more comfortable only socialising when necessary. The important thing is to keep channels of communication open, so everyone feels able and welcome to approach everyone, when and if they need to.
Dealing with conflict
It’s sad when conflict arises between families and where this happens it’s useful to remember that most people essentially want an easy life. It’s rare that relatives set out to purposefully sabotage a situation, but sometimes love and wanting to protect each other can make us act impulsively or irrationally.
Where there is conflict that shows little sign of being resolved, try not to absorb too much of the stress yourself, or to let it erode away at the happiness of your own relationship. Know the reasons behind any disharmony, get opinions from people on the outside who can look at it objectively, and have a plan that doesn’t involve going around in circles. The very least you both deserve is respect for the choices you’ve made and will continue to make together.
Written for Macbeth Matchmaking by Tori Ufondu