Many brides and grooms assume that this crisis will come to a head the first time their parents meet. You worry, "Will they like each other? Will they even get along?" But the fact is their relationship with each other began well before this moment. Every time you've told your mother something about his family—where they live, what they do for a living, what a family celebration is like, how they disagree with one another—and every time he tells his parents about yours, you've been introducing them. With each anecdote you share, every small detail you relate, you are creating a mental image of your in-laws for your parents. "The bride and groom paint a picture of what these families are like long before they ever meet," says Dr. Zax. "So you have to get over the fact that these two families are looking at each other and thinking ‘They are not like us.'"
Take heart! You can actually smooth the way before your two sets of parents meet by making sure the picture you paint is a good one. Bone up on the facts about your in-laws. Did either of them go to the same college as your mom or dad? Is someone a real art lover, a Star Wars fan, a phenomenal cook? "Anything you can do to prep your parents will help," says Dr. Les Parrott. "It's important for the bride or groom to show respect for the in-laws so that their own parents see it as well."
Naturally, that job is harder if, for whatever reason, you don't have much respect or even liking for your future in-laws. And if they or your own parents are divorced and/or remarried, the puzzle gets tougher to complete. Still, the same basic rules apply: You still should try to offer the best possible scenario of your in-laws so that their eventual meeting isn't a disaster. Does your fiancé's mom drive you nuts? Vent to a girlfriend or a therapist—not your mom. "What you don't show or tell your parents about your future in-laws is just as important," points out Dr. Zax. "I've seen lots of harm done in the name of honesty."
If you've already told your mom that his mother always criticizes your clothes or your cooking, or if you've already confided to your parents that his stepfather is hopeless with money, you may have to do some backpedaling and start pointing out some positive stuff. Above all, remember that getting married is one of those times when maturity is the word of the day. When you think your parents aren't going to like your in-laws, or vice versa, keep two points in mind: These are the people who raised the person you love, and they are going to be the grandparents of children you may someday have.