Between the shopping, events, winter weather and entertaining, the holidays are already an exciting, super-hectic time. But for many newer couples, ’tis the season for an additional layer of anxiety: Going home for the holidays. Holiday events often provide the first real opportunities to bring your partner home to meet your loved ones — parents especially. And while some traditions might be the same, every family has different dynamics, rituals, ground rules — and unspoken ones.
As the saying goes, you get only one chance at a first impression. If you’re planning to bring your significant other home for the holidays, here’s what to prep beforehand.
DTR before you go back home.
If you haven’t “defined the relationship” (DTR) yet, you might want to talk about “what does this mean?” when you issue the invite. The relationship doesn’t have to be serious, per se, but almost anyone will assume that you want to take the next step if you ask your partner to meet Mom and Dad, not to mention that people who will ask at the family get-together.
If you’re in a somewhat gray area in your relationship, asking your partner to meet your family is actually a perfect time to check in about your status. If your partner balks, you’ll know that person is still not there yet on commitment. If there are reservations, you can discuss at that time. A lot of couples actually make it official before going home, so they know exactly how to introduce a partner — and what to tell their nosy aunts.
When in doubt, bring a small gift.
Try to nail down the gifting policy before you head to someone’s home. (If it’s not your family gathering, make sure your significant other gets the details.) Some families might open a lot of gifts at the family gathering; others might open none at all. Some might do a gift exchange or white elephant, and it would make sense for you and your partner to take part in that.
If you’re heading to meet the parents for the first time, or another hosting family member, the best gift is something small and thoughtful. Don’t overthink it, but show appreciation; don’t show up empty-handed. Even a bottle of wine or a poinsettia might suffice.
Explain the family dynamics.
Since going home with your partner can be anxiety-provoking, knowing what to expect can be comforting. Often there are some family dynamics worth discussing: your two aunts who do not get along, your uncle’s history of saying too much when he’s had a little wine or off-limits topics in your family’s household. Do you share the same politics? How about religious traditions? Do your parents have strong feelings about marijuana? Drinking?
Good to know upfront how your partner suggests navigating touchy dynamics and subjects. If it doesn’t come up naturally before the big event, check in on your commute. Always good to know if there’s any potential for drama during holiday festivities.
Discuss sleeping arrangements.
If you’re traveling far away to meet family, you may choose to stay in a hotel. But more than likely, you’ll wind up under a family member’s roof for a night or two. You want to be respectful of your hosts, first and foremost. So even if you’re used to sleeping in the same bed as your partner, make sure you ask your significant other to inquire about sleeping arrangements if uncertain.
Make your partner feel comfortable.
Some people handle meeting the family like old pros, but for most, it’s a high-stress time. Your job as a partner is to mitigate that stress as much as you can. If you’re the one bringing your significant other to your family’s holiday, introduce them to each of your family members and perhaps tell them what they have in common. Talk up your partner. Lend an icebreaker. Don’t leave the person alone for too long. Check in and make sure all is OK (e.g., not stuck in an uncomfortable conversation).
If you’re going home to meet your partner’s loved ones, abide by all rules and, when in doubt, exercise caution. Don’t introduce controversy; keep political talk to a minimum, especially if you know your views differ. Be respectful, bring a gift and show gratitude. Make an effort to get to know everyone, including the kids in attendance.
Most of all? Try to have fun. Bringing your partner to spend time with the family can be a big step for any couple and a great opportunity to grow closer within your relationship.