For most people, the holiday season means plenty of family time, which can bring laughter and closeness or tension and uneasiness—sometimes both in the span of just one visit. This is especially true if you’re spending the holidays with a significant other and meeting the parents for the first time.
Although it’s bound to happen in most serious relationships, the hectic nature of the holidays can easily compound the first-time jitters: you want to make a great impression, gain their approval, and still manage to enjoy the festivities with your partner. This survival guide will help you navigate the situation without your inner Clark Griswold coming out.
Make Travel as Easy as Possible
According to a recent holiday analysis, the average person travels around 275 miles during the holidays. Traveling is stressful, from planning the stops on your road trip to making it to your gate on time. Whether you’re driving or flying, make this portion of the trip stress-free so you step off the plane ready to mingle and meet everyone.
The best way to make this happen is to plan ahead. If you’re renting a car, get that taken care of now. If you’re traveling on a plane, get your itinerary memorized so there’s no last-minute surprises. Don’t forget to bring food so no one gets “hangry” and pack headphones so you can tune out the chaos of the airport.
Arrive with a Flexible Attitude
Inflated or unrealistic “expectations breed disappointment” in families, but lowering your demands can “mitigate exasperation,” suggests Erris Langer-Klapper, relationship blogger for the Huffington Post. While it’s normal to hope for a positive outcome and warm reception, you should also keep in mind the actions of others are outside your control.
Be flexible and adaptable for the duration of your visit to deflect awkward situations or abrasive members of your S.O.’s family. The only attitude you are responsible for is your own and arguments, steeped in deep-seeded family history, is no place for you.
Get Involved in the Preparations
Volunteer for a specific role in the holiday preparations to keep yourself occupied. “In general, people are more comfortable in an uncomfortable situation if they have something to do,” says Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker, licensed marriage and family counselor.
Luckily, in a busy holiday household, it won’t be hard to find easy tasks to takeover. Offer to chop the vegetables, baste the turkey, mash the potatoes or set the table before dinner, then pitch in to clean dishes once the meal is over. Your willingness to help out will bode well for making a good impression and it might even give you a chance to strike up a conversation with your significant other’s parents or relatives as you work alongside them.
Find Downtime for Yourself
The idea of designating alone time is often met with resistance because it can appear selfish or antisocial, especially during this people-oriented time of year. Yet, it’s critical for a stress-free trip:
“When you practice self-care, you’re practicing self-compassion. As you offer compassion to yourself, you can offer compassion to others. During the holidays, we are so quick to give our time and energy that we can end up feeling depleted afterwards,” says Stephanie Harrison, Huffington Post contributor.
Grant yourself permission to withdraw temporarily from the noise and action to re-energize. Practice meditation, read, journal, take a walk and embrace the quiet solitude for a short while.
Plan an Exit Strategy if Needed
This may sound extreme or unnecessary, but it doesn’t mean you need to create a plan to bail early. Rather you “should agree beforehand how long to stay and then leave at the predetermined time,” advises Deanna Brann, in her book Reluctantly Related: Secrets to Getting Along with Your Mother-in-Law or Daughter-in-Law.
Knowing when you plan to depart can give you the patience needed to tolerate a stressful environment. If necessary, you can have a last-minute exit strategy in case those unfamiliar family dynamics prove difficult to handle. Decide this together, before heading inside, so you can both be ready if necessary.
Meet the Parents
The holidays can be stressful and meeting the parents can only add to the chaos—but it doesn’t have to. Use these ideas to alleviate the tension and free yourself up to embrace the seasonal festivities. You might even come to find common ground with your significant other’s family, so remember to keep an open-mind and be ready for anything.