When Families Disagree About Politics

Dealing with political disagreements within a family can be difficult.

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Of all the subjects that families discuss, politics can be among the most polarizing. This topic can turn the most peaceful dinnertime conversation into a heated argument within moments. When family members disagree about politics, it can spur lively debate but it can also lead to more damaging exchanges.

Regardless of how strongly you hold your political beliefs and opinions, they may not match the thinking of those closest to you. Here are some ways to handle tough conversations without letting them damage your relationships.

How to Talk Politics With Family

If you choose to talk politics, these strategies will improve your chances of a civil and constructive conversation.

Open Your Mind

While political opinions can be strong and lead to emotional exchanges, it's important to realize that the person you're speaking to has good reasons for their beliefs too. Even if you know without a doubt that you disagree with their position, it's still possible (and helpful) to be curious about why they think they way they do.

In addition, listening to others' opinions may introduce a perspective you hadn't considered before. Try suspending judgment and instead listening with a mindset of curiosity.

If you want to discuss your beliefs, make a genuine effort to understand those of your family members also. One effective way to do this is by "active listening." This a method of listening with all of your senses to stay engaged in the conversation in a positive way.

To put active listening into practice, try rephrasing what the other person has just said. Be sure to rephrase their thoughts without putting your own spin on what you have heard.

Learning to rephrase the other person's statements or opinions is a smart way to learn how to listen and have more productive and meaningful conversations.

Coming into the conversation from a position of humility and open-mindedness will give you a better chance of discussing issues constructively, without dissolving into an argument. It will also increase the chances of the other person listening to what you have to say.

Use Humor Wisely

Humor is a great way to inject a little levity into any discussion. Just be sure to avoid snarky or partisan humor. Political discussions often have some inherent humor that, if recognized, can lighten the mood.

Stay Calm

If you find your voice rising and your tone becoming argumentative, it's time to take a few deep breaths or exit the conversation gracefully. If either party has been drinking, shelve the discussion and revisit it when everyone has a clear mind.

Alcohol-fueled debates have a lethal ability to damage relationships. Avoid hot-button topics when one or more parties have been drinking.

Be Aware of Your Body Language

Because nonverbal communication is such an integral part of how we interact with others, it's worth thinking about, particularly when having a potentially charged conversation. According to the authors of one study, "Nonverbal behavior expresses many of the dynamics underlying face-to-face social interactions, implicitly revealing one’s attitudes, emotions, and social motives."

Research shows that the words we speak account for only about 20% of our communication, which means that the vast majority of what people understand from our statements is actually due to what we don't say.

When having a political discussion, be mindful of the nonverbal cues you may be sending. Some of these nonverbal cues include:

  • Body movement (fidgeting, tapping fingers and feet, checking the time)
  • Body posture
  • Eye contact
  • Facial expression
  • Gestures
  • Volume and tone of voice

All of these cues can give the impression that you are either interested in the other person's comments or are discounting their opinion and ready to leave. To engage in a meaningful conversation, try to maintain comfortable eye contact and a pleasant expression. Also avoid slouching or fidgeting, both of which convey your readiness to end the conversation.

People don't respond well to feeling cornered, so be careful not to lean in or invade their space while talking. Also make sure you are not physically trapping them (against a wall, for instance).

Know How to Exit

It's common for people to end a heated discussion with a comment like, "We'll just have to agree to disagree." While this may seem fairly innocuous, it tends to discount the other person's viewpoint and leave them feeling unheard.

It's better to say, "You've given me something to think about. Let's talk about something else and come back to this at another time." 

How to Handle Family Gatherings

Holidays can be an especially tense time for some families, and family gatherings are often ripe for conflict. To begin with, they involve a lot of planning and hard work, and that puts some people on edge. Being together can also trigger old wounds and family tensions.

Generally speaking, political discussions don't make good mealtime conversations. Besides the obvious risk of conflict, some guests may not find a heated political debate enjoyable. These arguments tend to be dominated by one or two people, and that's not much fun for the others.

The combination of food and political conversation can be immensely enjoyable if and when everyone shares similar beliefs or can enjoy a spirited debate without taking it personally. Unfortunately, that's not always the case.

Never assume you know the political leanings of another family member. It might surprise you to learn they are the exact opposite of what you suspected.

Family, Politics, and Social Media

Social media offers many benefits, including helping us stay connected with friends, family, and coworkers. But it has also become a platform for negativity. It's all too easy to dash off posts without thinking them through or post links that may or may not be factually accurate.

Because Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram are the most popular social media platforms, they're also at the root of many family conflicts. When a user has a large and diverse "friend" base, the odds are a political post is likely to offend someone.

If it's just an acquaintance or a friend of a friend, it may not be big deal. If it is a family member, it can be a big deal indeed.

Before posting something while you're angry or frustrated, try saving the post privately and waiting at least a day. You may feel differently about posting it once you've had time to calm down.

If it isn't your own post that gets you into trouble with a family member, it may be a comment you've made on another post. Try the 24-hour rule before commenting as well. You may find it's just not worth commenting once you've had some time to cool down. Remember, anything you share online can never really be taken back.

Keep in mind, however, that you are entitled to your opinions. If you feel strongly about a political issue and post something or respond to someone else's post, and a family member sees it and doesn't like it, that's OK. They are allowed to disagree, and you are allowed to hold your own beliefs as well.

Respecting the right of others to hold their opinions while holding strongly to your own can (and should) coexist.

If you feel that a family member is trying to provoke you by commenting on your posts or comments, the best strategy is to simply not respond on social media, but wait and talk to them in person. Social media discussions have a way of escalating quickly, even when that is not the intention.

Sometimes it's best to avoid tackling politics on social media at all. If you feel compelled to discuss religion, politics, or any other touchy subject with a family member, it may be better to do it in person.

When to Avoid Political Topics

For better or worse, political decisions have a tremendous impact on our lives. That alone makes them worthy of discussion. A world in which we never discuss politics for fear of hurting someone's feelings would be a dysfunctional world indeed.

But when it's obvious that two opposing sides will never meet, it's time to declare a moratorium on political discussion. In these cases, turn to issues of common interest for a more productive and enjoyable conversation.

Talking Politics With Children

One surefire way to create a family rift is to lecture the youngest members of the family whenever you get them in private. This is most dangerous with school-age children who are especially impressionable. During those formative years, the parents have the right to be in charge of the forces that influence their development.

Resist the temptation to bring up political topics with young children. If a niece, nephew, cousin, or grandchild starts the discussion, defer to the parents. If the disagreement in your family is particularly volatile, you may want to avoid responding at all.

If your family is a little more open to discussion, it's OK to answer the question, but be certain to preface your response with a disclaimer that it's only your opinion, and everyone has the freedom to feel and think differently.

When Disagreements Signal Bigger Problems

There may be instances when a difference of opinion on political matters is symptomatic of larger problems. The values and morals that form the basis of our lives can also greatly influence our political views.

If you feel that a family member's stance on certain issues points to a fundamental difference in their value system, it could be time to reevaluate your relationship with that person. You will need to decide if you want to address the bigger issues underlying their political beliefs, or if you have seen enough to make an informed decision about whether to continue the relationship.

This doesn't have to mean total estrangement or open conflict every time you see that person. But it may mean that you choose to spend less time around them.

A Word From Verywell

It's a wonderful thing to have political beliefs. It means you care about the world and that you are not apathetic about important issues. If your passions mean that you have offended someone, a heartfelt apology can go a long way toward repairing hurt feelings. 

But loving and caring for others also means loving yourself and owning your value system and beliefs. Some people do feel that their political views are such an integral part of their being that they can never modulate or apologize for them.

If this is the case for you, be prepared to lose some friends and family members along the way. If you research the lives of political movers and shakers, you will find their activism cost them some valuable relationships.

One final point: We need to translate our political standards into personal action. If you believe that our laws are perpetuating social injustice, work for better laws. If you believe that social ills are better addressed through private charities, choose one and make a meaningful donation of time or money.

You're more likely to influence others by living out your beliefs than by "winning" a political argument. When family relationships are damaged, no one wins.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it wrong to unfollow someone I disagree with?

Not always. If a friend or family member posts content that offends you or is so extreme it could damage your opinion of them, it may be wise to unfollow or unfriend them on social media.

If, in contrast, they post information that makes you reevaluate your political views in a healthy way, staying connected may not be a bad idea as long as you can keep discussions civil and respectful.

What should you do when family unfriends you due to politics?

You might be surprised to discover you have been unfriended because of your political beliefs. If you are close to the person who unfriended you, consider asking them what upset them. A positive, non-confrontational approach can start a productive conversation where you hear each other out and gain a new perspective.

If you are not particularly close to the person who unfriended you, or you find their views too far apart from yours, try to overlook it and move on. No two people will always agree on all issues, and that's OK.

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Article Sources
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  3. Pew Research Center. Social media fact sheet. 2021.