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Turkey is the centerpiece of almost every Thanksgiving feast, but when there’s someone new at the dinner table, most eyes fall on that person.
Inviting your partner to Thanksgiving is a huge step in any relationship journey. The invitation conveys to family members that this person is super important and worth getting to know, said relationship and intimacy expert Dr. Viviana Coles, author of “The 4 Intimacy Styles: The Lasting Physical Intimacy.”
Bringing someone to Thanksgiving dinner — or really any holiday meal — can make or break a relationship, warned eHarmony relationship expert Laurel House. Being bombarded with family members prying into your love life is an intense and overwhelming situation — especially if your partner is not prepared to handle their questions.
“I’ve seen people break up the day after a family event,” House said.
We spoke to relationship experts about when’s the right time to invite a partner over to spend the holidays and the game plan for making a good first impression.
When is the best time to bring a partner to dinner
Everyone’s relationship is unique, so the timeline will look different for each couple. Some might feel ready to invite a partner over after a few weeks, while others will want to wait longer.
Shan Boodram, a sex and relationship expert at Bumble, recommended following this formula: gradual, mutual and logical. She advised looking at what steps have both of you taken to build up to this moment. The Thanksgiving invitation should come after getting to see each other in a variety of settings, such as hanging with each other’s friends or after being physically intimate.
“You should bring someone to a family event when you have been together for enough time that you truly know each other,” House said. “You both know when the other is feeling insecure, nervous or uncomfortable, and you have gotten to the depths of being confidently vulnerable to each other.”
Having your romantic partner meet the family before you have defined the relationship can make it an awkward situation for both the partner and your relatives. Boodram said the honeymoon phase — the first few months of dating — is when people are looking at their partner with rose-colored glasses.
They may be preoccupied with happy and infatuating thoughts on the person at the moment instead of rationally thinking about what both are looking to get out of the partnership. You do not have to talk about where you’ll be years from now, Boodram added. However, you should have an idea of where you are right now.
Couples should also talk about what the end goal is for inviting their partner to Thanksgiving. What is the purpose of having your partner meet the family, or do you think the invitation will enhance your connection with the partner or are you introducing this person to somebody whose opinion matters to you? If either is the case, Coles said it warrants a conversation.
Prepare your significant other for a family holiday
In an ideal world, every one of your relatives would welcome your partner with open arms. But some may judge your partner right away, others might ask a lot of questions, and some may not want to interact at all. A holiday meal can also put immense stress on the partner to make a great first impression with everyone.
Coles advised meeting with one or two relatives before the holiday. Of all your relatives, your significant other should meet your parents or other important family at least a few days earlier. Doing so gives your partner an opportunity to create important connections and have familiar faces to talk to during the celebration.
“Establishing a relationship between your person and the most important family member beforehand can make them feel more comfortable with your family dynamic,” House said. “It’s a great way to prep before they go into the whole group dynamic.”
Your partner can feel even more at ease for Thanksgiving with tips on how formal to dress and what conversation topics to avoid. Politics and religion are usually taboo, but it’s especially important to avoid these topics if your partner’s beliefs are at odds with the rest of the family. Additionally, House said to give your significant other a rundown on family members who are attending, especially the ones with whom there are strained relations.
What to do on Thanksgiving Day
If you decide to invite your partner, Coles recommended bringing a gift as a thank-you for the invitation. A side dish or dessert are good choices for a Thanksgiving dinner, but make sure it’s not a dish someone has already agreed to bring. “If somebody agreed to make mashed potatoes and your partner brings mashed potatoes, you might accidentally create a competition.”
Your partner should expect a lot of questions on Thanksgiving Day. Sometimes the conversation might be inappropriate or take a turn for the worse. If that’s the case, Boodram advised having a safe word or gesture such as tapping three times on your leg to signal when it’s time for you to step into the discussion or lead them away.
It might feel over the top to prepare, but it’s better to prep than stress. House said having a strategy on how to navigate the holiday successfully is not being fake but laying the groundwork so that your partner can present their best self to your family.
Jocelyn Solis-Moreira is a New York-based freelance health and science journalist.