If The First Time You Meet Your Partner's Parents Doesn't Go Well, Is That A Red Flag?

Meeting the parents can be a really big step in a relationship. It’s both a sign that you're taking the relationship seriously and a test to see if you and your partner's parents will get along — not to mention, it's your first impression of them and them of you. It can be really stressful and a lot of pressure the first time you meet your partner's parents, especially if, like me, you spend the time leading up to meeting them imagining all they ways it can go wrong. Absolute torture.

The good news is that it usually doesn't go too wrong. Maybe there are some uncomfortable silences or there's a little first-meeting awkwardness, but for the most part it's not a Meet The Parents-level disaster. But (and I'm sorry to say this) sometimes it can be. Sometimes it just goes poorly. There can be lots of reasons why the meeting went sideways, and some are pretty benign and can be overcome, but some are serious, and should be taken as red flags that your relationship with your partner may be affected. The key is to know the difference and what to do moving forward. To help with that, I reached out to bestselling author and relationship expert Susan Winter, who broke down how to spot the red-flag situations and what to do about it. Here's what she says.

A bad first impression isn’t always a red flag.

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Sometimes, when a first meeting goes poorly, it’s not that there's a major problem or an insurmountable disconnect, but just a good old fashioned case of the nerves. As Winter explains, “Perhaps you were feeling tense because you feel this may be ‘The One’ and the last thing you want to do is screw things up with his or her parents.”

Instead of playing it cool, the nerves got the best of you and things got awkward (or felt more so than they actually were) because, as Winter says, “that kind of self-imposed pressure is guaranteed to create a basket of nerves.” But don’t despair, a first introduction gone wrong simply because you're nervous isn’t necessarily the end of things. As Winter explains, “A bad first-time meeting with your partner’s parents could be chalked up to nerves (on both sides). If that’s the case, then it wouldn’t impact your romantic future. Consider it an awkward introduction that will become more comfortable for both of you in time.”

Here’s when it actually is a red flag that you need to pay attention to.

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While nerves may not be a deal-breaker, there are some situations when a poor first meeting may signal there are deeper problems in the relationship. In that case, it’s time to recognize the red flag waving in your face. Winter says that “if one or both of your partner’s parents are hostile, aggressive, or emotionally out-of-control, then you are in for a bumpy ride.”

No kidding, but she adds, “Hopefully, your partner warned you of this possibility in advance. If you got no such warning (because your partner doesn’t see their disagreeable parent as problematic), then, you have a real problem.” She explains that the reason this is a red flag is because it “means your partner either endorses or tolerates his or her parents' behavior. Additionally, they may also harbor the same beliefs and hostility you encountered.” Yikes.

In this situation, Winter says it’s time to do some reflection on the state of the relationship and your partnership. The first thing to consider is if your partner backed you up when things got hairy with their parents. “This is an important factor to note,” she explains, because, “it says a lot about your partner’s relationship with their parents, and whom they’re willing to throw under the bus to please them.”

Even if your partner does have your back, Winter says you also have to consider the simple question of whether or not theirs is the "future family you want." Because, depending on what you decide, she says it may have a serious impact on your future well-being and happiness.

“Choosing a partner is a package deal. Most every mate will come with some degree of family attached,” says Winter. “The only question you need to ask yourself is whether this is an agreeable family that you would choose for your future happiness.” That’s a really big question, so consider it thoughtfully before you take your next step.

What To Do If You Want To Move Forward

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So, what should you do after your first meeting goes badly? Well, according to Winter, it all comes down to why it went poorly. If it really was just a case of nerves (on either side), Winter says your best bet is to ask your partner to set up another meeting with the family, but under different conditions, and let your partner know how important it is to you that you make a good impression on their family.

“Perhaps it was the choice of venue, the topic of conversation, or some other factor that got you off your balance,” says Winter, who adds, “Telling your partner your concern is half the battle. At least they know how much you care and how important it is for you to have a good relationship with their family.” A supportive partner will help to set up the scenario for the best possible meeting reboot.

However, if it’s a scenario where the problem isn't you, it's them — well, in that case, Winter says “think twice.” As she explains, “If your partner’s family made you feel uncomfortable, unsafe, or threatened, then this is not the type of relationship you want moving forward.”

There are some mitigating factors. For example, that your partner realizes that their family is difficult, but they have your back, and you both agree that you'll only have limited contact with their family. However, Winter warns that, “if your partner doesn’t understand where you’re coming from and turns it all around on you, then consider a possible exit.” If this happens, it probably means there are fundamental philosophical differences between the two of you and “this rift is deep and won’t stand the test of time,” Winter says.

Did all this actually make meeting the parents even more stressful? I don’t blame you, but here’s what I think the most important takeaway is: Making a bad first impression in the first meeting is not a death sentence for the relationship. We all get nervous and weird sometimes, but that's totally something you can come back from. Remember: Having a meeting with the parents go badly can be a really useful tool for weeding out partners who won't be healthy or supportive in the long run. For a relationship to really thrive, you need to be a team, so don't put up with anyone who doesn’t have your back.

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