When politics come to the dinner table

How to salvage your bonds with loved ones when you just can’t agree

Family and politics don’t always mix.
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Family dinners at my household have always been filled with vibrant conversation. Growing up, popular topics included what my brother and I learned at school, complaints about workdays, and drama surrounding social lives. But when I moved home this spring at the beginning of the pandemic and family dinners were reinstated, conversation topics had shifted to more mature subjects.

As it turns out, not everyone in my family sees eye to eye on political issues. It was uncomfortable to realize that I wasn’t living in the progressive household I’d always thought I was while growing up.

Soon, family dinners became a thing of the past after a few too many disagreements on sensitive subjects. My mother and I would reclusively eat our dinners in her bedroom while watching television.

Based on my personal experience, I can offer advice to those who are dealing with similar situations. Rather than going head-to-head with a loved one, here are some strategies to minimize the conflict.

Find an ally

There’s a fine line between avoiding conflict and being able to express ourselves. If you feel that you have to keep quiet to balance the tension at the dinner table, find someone who shares your political views. Whether this person is a part of your family, a friend, or someone you met online, it can be helpful to know that we have someone to talk to. It’s also important to make sure you’re expressing yourself to someone who can support you and feels comfortable doing so.

Find common ground

While it may sometimes seem necessary to avoid arguments, it may not be necessary to avoid the person you disagree with altogether. Instead of chatting with my family member about where we disagreed, I found a topic that was less sensitive and one we feel similarly about. It helped me keep the relationship intact and reduced the amount of conflict we had in the future.

Take the high road

It took every ounce of my being to keep quiet during some of my family’s conflicts, but it was ultimately much more beneficial to me and my mental wellbeing. Sometimes I had to remove myself from the conversation completely when I felt like my family member was trying to convince me their opinions were fact. Even when I was presenting solid evidence in a calm and respectful manner, I knew I wasn’t going to sway their views.

There’s not always a perfect resolution for conflict. By putting my wellbeing at the forefront of my priorities, I made the decision to keep my opinions to myself for the sake of a relationship.

Have a goal

Sometimes an argument is unavoidable—particularly for topics that are important and irrefutable—in which case I would recommend remaining calm and keeping a focused goal. Are you trying to be understood, or are you trying to change someone’s mind? Whatever you decide, it’s important to think about the possible outcomes. You may have to choose what matters more to you: the relationship or your point of view.

When conflicts broke out at the dinner table, I had to be aware of the reality of the situation. My family member refused to acknowledge my perspectives, regardless of how much evidence I presented to them. I had to come to terms with our disagreements and focus on the things we had in common instead to preserve our relationship, which was my goal.

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