How to Handle Your Parents Meeting For the First Time

His parents, your parents, step parents... chances are, the only reason they'd ever be in the same room is the two of you. Find the right key for family harmony.

Family Practice

To smooth the first meeting—assuming your parents don't know each other from any other setting and also assuming that you've primed them with some well-chosen connections—invite everyone to a neutral place. A restaurant is always good because then nobody is "in charge." Another especially effective strategy: Take the initiative during introductions by pointing out similarities and broaching "talking points." That way, the parents don't have to scramble to come up with things to say, "and they feel honored by their kids," says Dr. Leslie Parrott.

For instance, you might say: "Mr. Greene, I'd like you to meet my dad. You would have no way of knowing this but he is an unbelievable fly-fisherman." Your fly-fishing father-in-law will be grateful for the "in" you've provided, and your dad will be pleased with the compliment.

At first, the newlywed couple can and should act as a bridge for the parents and in-laws. Make those connections—"Mom, Mr. Curtis went to U.C.L.A., too; Dad, Mrs. Curtis is also a huge John Grisham fan." But be careful not to overdo the "running interference" tactic. "There's no sense in trying to be the mediator forever," says Dr. Les Parrott. "Once you become the messenger between the two sets of parents, you set up a pattern." After a while, you just have to leave them alone to get on with it.

Three things to keep in mind during the wedding plans: Be sensitive to what all of your parents are saying so you know what their truly important issues are. Be clear with your fiancé about what is non-negotiable so you know how far the two of you are willing to compromise on your wedding in trying to be sensitive to your parents. And, lastly, remind all the parties involved of the bigger picture. "Parents need to remember that the wedding is just one day, but they'll need to maintain a cordial relationship with this other family for a long time because they're going to be sharing grandchildren," stresses Dr. Zax.

The bigger picture, the one that includes living happily ever after, will be much prettier if you have set the scene right from the beginning. It's really not a matter of just getting through the wedding. Even if your parents and his live thousands of miles apart, their influence—and tension if there is any—will be felt in your relationship. Dr. Zax calls it the "Greek chorus" of your marriage. "You and your husband are not an isolated island," she says. "You are part of a chain of islands and you're all connected."