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Q: I'm about to meet my partner's parents. How can I make a good impression?

A: Okay, you're ready. You've fallen in love and gotten "serious" about someone who feels the same way. Now it's time to meet the parents. But there's no reason to panic. Put on your field helmet. You're about to set out on an adventure of discovery. Your goal is to observe both the interactions between your new mate and his or her family and between the parents.  The prizes are better understanding of the origins of what makes your new partner tick, increased empathy for him or her and some ability to predict his or her emotional reactions. 

And, oh yes, the more interest you show in the parents, the more they will like you-which is good news since you don't have to worry as much about making a good first impression. So, take a breath and read this guide about how to make the most of your initial "meet the parents" experiences.

1. Learn about her parents before you meet them. Hopefully, you and your new partner have talked to each other about your pasts.  You know which parents were loving, responsible or present.  You also probably have a rough sense of your partner's "issues." But there's nothing like meeting the parents to bring this information to life. 

However, it's not so easy to use this knowledge when you actually meet them. Saying to them, "Well, I understand you got divorced and remarried," would hardly be a good idea. So, just what do you talk about?

Most people like to feel important and valued.  When a person feels that someone likes them, that person tends to reciprocate the positive feeling. Your best strategy, then, for the parents liking you is to take an interest in them. Find out what they do, how they spend their time and, most importantly, what they like to talk about. Do they like to raise dogs, travel and garden or study the American Civil War? Are they experts in something? Do your homework and stay curious so that when you ask them questions you are genuine.

2. Be prepared to answer questions about yourself. If you have skeletons in your family closet, don't bring them out in the open. It obviously would not be a good idea to blurt out, "My father was a mean drunk."  Find another, more positive way to talk about your family that presents you as a good partner for the parents' child. You might say, for instance, "My mother is an incredibly strong woman. She raised me alone, worked and finished college.  She's a lot like your daughter." 

Make a list of things you would like them to know about you. For example, would you like them to know that you have a good job or you are finishing your masters degree?  Ask your new partner what he or she would like you to convey to the parents.

3. Observe the interactions between the parents. Some apples can fall far from the tree. Yet, even if your new love is very different from his or her family, dormant similarities to the parents can still exist. Observing the parents' interactions might teach you about how they feel about listening, caring and respecting. Are they kind to each other? Do they snipe?  Or is one parent robbed of a speaking part? 

Think about your interactions with your new love. What similarities do you see? What do you understand more clearly? One of my clients said that after seeing her boyfriend's father, she had greater empathy for why her boyfriend often was afraid to take realistic risks. "His father was so negative. All he kept talking about was how hard it was to afford a house or be self-employed. He said he hated traveling because he didn't trust airlines or trains." 

4. Observe how your new mate interacts with his or her parents. When you visit your parents, you probably fall into the same old conversations that go nowhere and get into heated discussions about the same topics. Being with your parents activates your unresolved issues with them and recreates your interactive patterns. If your parents were always critical of you, for example, you might find yourself seeking their approval by doing the equivalent of begging for attention and love: You find yourself talking about your latest accomplishments or displaying your expertise. 

Your new partner will most likely replay his or her role and communication patterns with the parents.  Observe when your partner gets quiet or strident.  Perhaps he or she panders to one of the parents or rushes to fill the silences.  The more you observe, the more you learn about your new love and the more you can understand your own relationship patterns.

5. Discuss the experience with your new partner. Talk about what you learned and how it will make your relationship better. One of my clients watched how his girlfriend's mother exhausted herself with cooking, setting the table and apologizing repeatedly for overcooking the vegetables. The husband never offered to help, and he never said anything positive about the meal. My client understood why his girlfriend bristled at doing domestic chores. "She felt like nothing, an invisible, unappreciated person," my client said. When he told his girlfriend about his observation, she felt relieved that he was clued in. He became more empathic, and, to the surprise of both of them, she began to take an interest in cooking. 

Hopefully, this brief guide will prepare you to meet the parents without feeling so worried.  Good luck!

Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, Ed.D, MSS, is a nationally recognized psychologist and licensed clinical social worker, specializing in women's issues in love, life, work, and family. Sign up on her website, http://www.lovevictory.com, to receive free advice, blog, cartoon, and information about her two upcoming research-based, self-help books for women: The Love Adventures of Almost Smart Cookie—a cartoon, self-help book and Smart Relationships. You can follow Dr. Wish on Twitter.