Family is everything, a fact that becomes challenging to remember when you’re standing on opposite sides of a political debate. There are ways to keep politics from tearing your family apart, though. You just have to be willing to try.
Don’t Let Politics Come Between You and Your Family
A 2019 study found that 39% of respondents see a major political divide in their family. In other words, nearly 4 out of 10 families allow politics to come between them to at least some degree. While that figure is lower than I thought it would be given the sheer number of “I just had to unfriend my parent/aunt/sibling/cousin” posts I see on Facebook, it’s still fairly significant.
Family is everything to me, so it makes me incredibly sad to see so many torn apart by differences in political beliefs and ideologies. As I’ve said before, we don’t have to agree on everything to love each other. Without getting into it too much, I have family members that feel very differently than I do about politics. In fact, we’re on complete opposite ends of many debates. Yet, at the end of the day, we still love each other. That’s what family is: unconditional love.
Of course, it’s not always easy to put aside our differences. Even in the best of years, political differences cause major fights among family. I think we can all agree that this hasn’t been the best of years. In fact, it’s been downright brutal. Still, if you commit to keeping politics from tearing your family apart, it’s entirely possible to make it through the season without disowning each other.
How do you keep politics from tearing your family apart?
Keeping politics from tearing your family apart is easier when both sides commit to maintaining the peace, so these tips require a mutual agreement.
Make political debate off-limits at family parties
If your family parties usually end with at least one person storming off in anger, consider declaring them a politics-free zone upfront. Tell everyone before they arrive that you’re looking forward to spending time catching up rather than arguing about politics. You can even make it a bit fun by putting up a sign on your door that says, “Drama-free zone’ or “This house is neutral territory.”
Of course, that really only works if you’re hosting the party. It’s not really feasible (or polite) to tell your sister or aunt that she can’t allow political debates at her own home. In that case, try the next tips.
Redirect conversations before they get heated
You’re all sitting around the table enjoying dessert and chatting about the crazy weather we’ve been having this year. Everyone is laughing, having a great time, and basically at peace. Then it happens. Your aunt mentions a story she saw about the melting ice caps. Your uncle snickers and mumbles something about climate change conspiracies. BOOM, the table erupts into a massive fight and the party’s over.
How can you prevent something that escalates so quickly? Redirection, my friend, redirection. When your aunt mentions the ice cap story, interject with “Oh, that reminds me,” then change the subject. Yes, it sounds rude. Sure, everyone knows what you’re doing. However, it’s obvious enough to make it clear that you’re all heading into dangerous waters with this discussion. If everyone is committed to keeping family peace, they’ll accept the redirection and move on.
Make up before you say good-bye
Decide as a family that, no matter how heated things get, you’ll always end your visit (or even your phone conversation) with love. Remember, we never know what tomorrow brings. Tragedy can strike in a moment. You’ll never regret saying “I love you” to someone even when you’re angry. You will regret it forever, though, if your last words were angry and hateful.
If your visit devolved into a fight, try this. Before you leave, tell your loved one, “I’m sorry things got so heated. I love you, no matter how much we disagree.” That way, no one is apologizing for their opinions and no one is saying “you were right.” It should be obvious, but no matter what, don’t say something like, “I love you even though you’re wrong.”
Like I said earlier, these tips rely on both sides making a commitment to keeping politics from tearing your family apart. If your family needs more incentive (we all have that one relative who just loves a good fight), remind them that studies show that strained family relationships are bad for your health.
One last tip, and this one is just for your own peace of mind. Consider “unfollowing” friends and family on opposites sides of politics (or any of your other hot button issues) on Facebook. Unfollowing doesn’t mean unfriending or blocking. It just means that you don’t see their posts in your news feed. You can still go to their page directly and read their updates if you choose, but you won’t be blindsided by rants that leave you feeling hurt and angry.
Don’t let other “hot button issues” destroy your family
If you’ve never heard the phrase before, the hot button issue definition is “an emotional and usually controversial issue or concern that triggers an immediate intense reaction.” Anything (and I do mean anything) can become controversial and elicit a visceral reaction. Heck, I’ve seen minor friendly debates over whether putting ketchup on scrambled eggs is tasty or gross escalate into screaming matches!
That said, there are a handful of topics that pop up on every hot button issue examples list. Most of them tie back to politics (like reproductive rights and the 2nd Amendment arguments), but there are a few that go beyond just a difference in political opinion, and a few that have absolutely nothing to do with politics at all. Let’s quickly go over a few of them and talk about how we can stop them from tearing our families apart.
After politics, religion has the most potential to tear apart a family. My friend grew up in a Catholic family, but she was a Pagan, and her brother an atheist. It could have made for some very tense family dinners, but fortunately, everyone was pretty respectful of each other’s different beliefs. Sadly, not all families are like that. Another friend’s parents completely cut her out of their lives because she has different beliefs from them.
Religion is the third most common cause of war (after economic gain and territorial disputes). If we can’t find a way to keep it from tearing families apart, how will we ever stop it from tearing the entire world to shreds? Unfortunately, since faith is often so fundamental to who we are as individuals, there’s no easy solution. You could use the strategies outlined above for politics, but ultimately it all comes down to choosing to respect different beliefs. Or, at the very least, accept that each person is entitled to their own faith.
We’re all passionate about our children’s education, and we all have different ideas on exactly what that education should look like or entail. Maybe you’re against punishing kids for bad grades and value other things more than having a straight-A student. Your brother, on the other hand, feels that grades matter more than anything else. Meanwhile, your sister has taken a whole “unschooling” approach to her kids’ education and ditched grades entirely.
There are so many other hot education topics aside from grades. Common core, standardized testing, public vs. private school, school taxes…the list goes on and on, each with as much potential for causing familial strife as the next. Unlike politics, I actually don’t recommend making education debates off-limits at family functions. I think we can all agree that our education system has plenty of room for improvements, even if we can’t agree on what those improvements look like. By respectfully discussing them, maybe we can come up with a better system together. However, if you can’t be respectful about it, then go ahead and make it off-limits.
Yep, even the food that you’re all sharing during your family dinner can become a recipe for a disastrous dispute. Perhaps, like me, you’re passionate about eating healthy and organic food as much as possible. On the other side of the table, your brother has no issues with GMOs and processed junk food. Then there’s your sister, who is a very picky eater and won’t touch anything that either of you eats. How on earth can you have a civil family dinner when you can’t even agree on one thing to eat?
Well first, consider having potlucks. Everyone brings something that they’ll actually eat so no one goes hungry. Or you could just have dinner at a restaurant that serves something for everyone. Either way, let each other eat in peace. Resist the urge to point out the pesticides in your brother’s salad or insist that your sister “just try one bite.” Everyone is entitled to decide what goes into (or doesn’t go into) their own bodies.
Love & Marriage
For this one, I’m not talking about a difference in opinion over same-sex marriage rights. That would fall under political hot button issues. I’m talking about love and marriage within your own family. For example, when you really can’t stand your in-laws (NOT an example from my life, just to be clear, I adore my in-laws), or your child marries someone that you don’t think is good enough for them.
The easiest way to prevent this hot button issue from tearing your family apart is to simply keep your mouth shut. Sorry, I know that’s a bit blunt, but really, it’s solid advice. Ask yourself, “What do I stand to gain by telling my sister that I can’t stand her husband?” It’s not like she’s going to say, “Well, you know what Betty Sue, you’re right! I’m going to file for a divorce right now!” In the best-case scenario, she gets angry with you. Worst case, she stops coming to family functions because she doesn’t want to subject the love of her life to an uncomfortable situation.
The exception is, of course, if your loved one is in an abusive relationship. If that’s the case, though, I recommend talking to an expert about the best way to approach helping them. Saying or doing the wrong thing could alienate them when they need you the most.
Of course, there are tons of other potential minefield topics, these are just some of the most common that aren’t specifically related to politics. Decide together which topics you can respectfully discuss and which are off-limits. Then stick to that list.
Remember: family is everything, and loving each other is more important than being right
In the end, just remind yourself that family is everything and that loving each other is far more important than “winning” an argument. With a whole lot of patience and a commitment to each other, it’s absolutely possible to keep politics from tearing your family apart (or anything else, for that matter).