Spending the holidays with your guy is a really exciting step forward in the relationship. When he invites you into his family’s home, he is showing you a part of his world that is closest to his heart. It’s natural to come into this situation feeling more than a little pressure to fit in. But it’s important to keep in mind that you aren’t the only one in the spotlight.
As tempting as it is to focus your attention on making a good impression, sharing in your S.O.’s family traditions offers a rare glimpse into his family of origin’s dynamic. You would be surprised at how much things such as meal prep and gift exchanges can tell you about your man and what his expectation may be for marriage. This isn’t necessarily about make-it-or-break-its, but the shared time will help you and your guy be intentional about your future family (whenever that conversation comes along).
Here are four things you can learn about his family that can also tell you something about how he might think of marriage and a family of his one day.
01. Learn about how his family spends downtime.
It may seem like a silly little detail, but how your man's family likes to spend time together could greatly influence you and your man's life together. Believe it or not, how we chill out at the end of the day or on weekends can be a source of conflict early on in marriage, and we typically model our downtime habits after our family of origin.
Maybe you like to sit and talk about your day, but he likes to go off and do his own thing? When you are sharing the same space, this difference can be hard to reconcile, and if expectations aren't communicated and an agreeable compromise isn't made, it can breed resentment and hurt feelings.
When you are with your guy's family, take note of those moments where there is nothing scheduled. Does everyone go off and do their own thing? Does the family lounge together in the family room and chat over eggnog? Use your observations as a point of discussion and ask your guy if this is typical for his family and if he enjoys relaxing in this way as well.
02. Learn about how his family handles conflict.
Despite what you might think, there is no such thing as a perfect family—and even if there was, how boring would that be? Maybe your guy's family doesn't get into it over politics or maybe they do, but regardless, their conflict style has shaped his perspective on handling tension.
Some people think conflict needs to be faced head on, no holds barred; others feel that it should be dealt with behind closed doors; and some feel that conflict is something to be avoided at all costs. Getting to know his family's conflict style will give you an idea of where he falls on the conflict management scale.
If you happen to pick up on family tension don't stress out about it, but don't brush it aside either. When the moment feels right, let your guy know you noticed the tension and ask him what he thought of it. Did he notice it? What does he think of the way the moment of tension or conflict was handled? This is just the beginning of a conversation about conflict style and how you both feel conflict in your relationship is handled best.
03. Learn about how his family shows affection.
One of the biggest mistaken assumptions is that our loved ones like to be shown love in the same way we do. But this couldn't be further from the truth. Exhibit A: Your guy's Aunt Marge giving you a prolonged hug and totally blowing up your personal space bubble, when you do not like to be touched. Oy vey!
It's incredible how illuminating his family dynamics can be in discovering what kind of affection your guy is most comfortable with. Dr. Gary Chapman explains in his book, The 5 Love Languages, that we all have one or two ways we especially like to be shown love: Physical Touch, Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Quality Time, and Gift Giving. The way we like to receive love has a lot to do with our unique personalities, but the way we were raised has an influence on our love language preferences as well.
So don't let your observation at how touchy-feely your guy's parents are go undiscussed; this is a perfect opportunity to find out what his primary love language is and if it's the same as those in his family.
04. Learn about how they like to spend money.
There is nothing like spending Christmas morning unwrapping gifts to help you sniff out how his family likes to spend money. No need to do any real sleuthing here! Just take note of any themes, and think of good questions to ask him later.
It probably doesn't come as a surprise to you that money matters can be a big source of tension in a relationship—and that our family of origin profoundly influences our relationship with money long after we move out of the house. How we like to spend and save speaks to a deeper value system that can clash with our partners values and cause conflict. For example, maybe gifts are few and/or inexpensive, but the real focus of the day is on decadent feast? This is more than just a difference in tradition, it tells you how they like to spend their money.
Ask questions about how your guy feels about his family's spending habits around the holidays. Does he feel like it matches up to how his parents like to spend money the rest of the year? Where does he like to spend his money at Christmastime? Remember, there isn't necessarily a wrong or right answer, but his relationship with money may be different than yours in some ways, and that's crucial to discuss.
Photo Credit: Brooke Cagle