It’s no secret that meeting her parents is intimidating. And when you’re looking to impress, it’s easy to pay more attention to yourself than to her family’s dynamics.
However, keeping a keen eye out is important: The way a woman interacts with her family—and the way her family interacts with you—can give you important clues about what your future may hold together.
“Your partner’s family relationship dynamics can have a huge impact on your future as a couple,” says Manhattan-based licensed clinical psychologist Joseph Cilona, Psy.D.
It’s also a good way to see if there are any major red flags to look out for.
Here are the ones Cilona says should be on your radar.
We learn how to interact from our families. So we tend to adopt similar ways of communicating, responding to conflict, and expressing anger, says Cilona.
If your girlfriend grew up in a family where yelling was how people made their point, she may internalize that and do the same.
If you realize this applies to your partner, it’s important to tell her if you’re not okay with this method of conflict resolution—and to express how you’d prefer to communicate about issues, says Cilona.
They have no boundaries.
Whether she wants to spend all of her time with her family or they’re constantly invading her space, a lack of boundaries can get old once things get serious between you, says licensed clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula, Ph.D., and author of Should I Stay or Should I Go?
If either of these scenarios are the case, it may mean that your decisions as a couple will involve her family, says Durvasula.
While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s worth having a conversation about what should stay just between the two of you.
Their jokes are mean.
“If jokes and humor repeatedly cross the line, it could indicate unhealthy dynamics in communication,” says Cilona.
The real red flag here is if her family is firing repeated insults.
So if your partner’s brother makes a joke once about the fact that she has gained a little weight, it’s not as big of a deal as bringing it up several times or roping other family members into it.
If you notice this, ask your partner what she thought about the “jokes” and go from there.
They make you uncomfortable.
This one is more subtle, Cilona says, but it’s important.
“Pay close attention to your own reactions to your partner’s family members and family relationships,” he says. “Lingering feelings of unease and discomfort might be a reaction to troubling relationship dynamics that aren’t obvious at first.”
Try to pinpoint the problem by paying careful attention to what’s giving you pause, he says.
Of course, plenty of great people come from dysfunctional families, and just because your girlfriend has some red flags doesn’t mean she’s going to be a terrible partner.
“Strained or unhealthy family relationship dynamics do not always carry into romantic relationships,” Cilona says. “Many people do not succumb to repeating unhealthy patterns in other relationships.”
That being said, it’s important to talk about things you notice, if only because they made you feel uncomfortable.
“If these dialogues are generally positive and productive, it’s less likely that the red flags will end up influencing your relationship,” says Cilona.
The article Red Flags to Watch Out For When You Meet His Family originally ran on WomensHealthMag.com.