If your family’s anything like ours, holiday gatherings are normally a politics-free zone. There’s just one problem: Uncle Sal can’t help bringing up current events once he’s a few scotches deep. And though you’re doing Thanksgiving dinner via Zoom this year, he’s guaranteed to make some comments about the election. Sound familiar? Don’t stress. It turns out there are actually a few strategies you can use to navigate the situation so it doesn’t end in a blowout fight or awkward silence. Here, three therapist-approved ways to handle politics at Thanksgiving this year.
1. Make your boundaries clear
If you’d prefer that political topics are off limits on November 26, express that to the people you’re celebrating with (both IRL and virtually) before the holiday, suggests Michael McGarry, licensed clinical social worker and co-founder of Atlas. “Make sure you communicate how these topics affect you and mention how you would like this time to be a positive and enjoyable experience for everyone,” he adds. Emphasizing that you want to avoid politics in order to create a more pleasant atmosphere for the whole family should help get everyone on the same page. Yup, even Uncle Sal.
2. Prepare some responses ahead of time
Maybe asking your loved ones to avoid political conversation altogether feels like a little bit much. Fair enough. In that case, just prepare some responses so that you’re ready if an uncomfortable topic comes up. “It’s easier to think of the ‘right’ thing to say ahead of time rather than when you’re flustered or emotionally triggered,” explains Rachel Gersten, licensed mental health counselor and co-founder of Viva Wellness.
Want to tell your aunt why you don’t agree with her opinion on immigration? Try to use ‘I’ statements, like ‘I believe ____’ and ‘I think ____’ to diffuse tension, suggests Heather Monroe, licensed clinical social worker and senior clinician at Newport Institute. If you’d rather change the subject, plan out how you might do that and think of a topic you could bring up instead, adds McGarry.
3. Plan an exit strategy
Try as you might, sometimes there’s just no avoiding a heated political discussion once Grampy gets going. But that doesn’t mean you have to get caught up in it, especially if you know you’ll only leave the conversation feeling discouraged and drained. Monroe recommends coming up with an exit strategy to remove yourself from the conversation if you start to feel uncomfortable. It could be as simple as excusing yourself to check on something in the kitchen, or to call a friend and wish them a happy Thanksgiving. The key is to have one of these excuses already prepared in the back of your mind, so you don’t feel trapped if dinner turns into a debate.