As someone who grew up in the Deep South, a fair amount of my past relationships have been with partners whose parents lean a little far right. By a little bit, I’m talking everything from believing QAnon, to conspiring about how the "Green New Deal is going to eliminate cows and airplanes," to dressing their unsuspecting canines in “deplorable” sweater vests, to calling the non-emergency line to ask for tips on how to deal with riots after the 2020 election.
Navigating these situations can be particularly tricky, especially when both you and your partner are, to put it lightly, on the complete and total opposite ends of the political spectrum. As the holiday season approaches, and more of us are either meeting our partner’s family for the first time or gearing up for another holiday of uncomfortable subject-changing and biting our tongues, there’s no better time to start reading up on how to make this time of year easier to navigate. Lucky for you, I’ve lived through this specific scenario more times than I can count, and have made my fair share of mistakes (i.e. saying nothing, saying too much, and causing my partner and me to make an uncomfortable exit), so I’m here to give you the rundown on the most important things to remember.
1. Go in with a plan.
Oftentimes, the most critical part of preparing for the holidays with your partner’s conservative family comes in the planning stage. Have a conversation with your partner about your concerns and hear them out when they let you know what you should expect from the evening. Being prepared is the best way to know how to navigate even the hardest conversations with Aunt Elizabeth about environmental policy.
2. Remember you’re likely not going to change the opinions of their older relatives, but you can protect the younger ones.
While it’s unlikely you’re going to make any kind of incredible impact on your partner’s older relatives, even with the most thoughtful political conversation, you can leave a lasting impact on the younger members of the family. Demonstrating respectful political discourse, even when you might feel yourself getting heated and upset about some of the opinions being expressed, sets a model for the next generation of voters to participate in these kinds of conversations with the right attitude in mind.
3. Know when it’s time to step in and step out.
I’ve made the mistake of inserting myself in a conversation I shouldn’t have, specifically when I’ve felt like my partner was being spoken over or disrespected. While it’s important to stick by your partner when their family is ganging up on them, remember that this might come off as overstepping to not only your significant other’s family but also to them. Depending on how long you’ve been in a relationship, and how comfortable your partner is discussing politics in general, they may not necessarily appreciate you stepping into the conversation. This is another great thing to discuss in the planning phase.
4. If you’re arguing about values, decide if the relationship is important enough to you.
Everything gets tricky when it gets personal, especially when the conversations move beyond the realm of politics and toward systemic or social issues that impact you, your partner or someone else that you love. If it comes down to it and you get your feelings hurt, try to source where this person is coming from. Oftentimes, they’re not making these statements as a personal attack; they simply see this as another political issue they can beef about. Identify how much you respect this person’s thoughts and opinions. More often than not, these harsh words come from someone you likely won’t see again, or at least very often. Set it aside as a bad interaction and call it a day.
5. Small talk sucks, but it’s powerful.
You will 100% feel more comfortable if you have some neutral topics on the back burner to discuss if things get *uncomfortable.*
Some of my favorites include:
What’s your favorite Thanksgiving memory from when you were a child?
What books/movies have you been reading/watching lately?
Where do you want to travel next?
6. It’s not about you.
No matter what’s said to you, whether it’s their mother telling you that you’ve corrupted their son, or your girlfriend’s father asking if you’re interested in watching the United States burn to the ground, you have to remember where their words are coming from. These bitter words often come from someone who is feeling dejected and cast out for their beliefs, and they’re projecting their bitterness onto whoever happens to interact with them about this sensitive subject. As upsetting and frustrating as it is, take a deep breath and try to have a laugh about it with your partner after it’s all over.