Thanksgiving and politics: How to keep your red and blue family from fighting

Amanda Genevie, a Democrat, knows that with Thanksgiving comes a dreaded conversation topic: politics.

Aside from Genevie and a few of her cousins, her entire family is comprised of Republicans. Every year at Thanksgiving, her family talks politics. She said the conversation can get heated — and fast.

“The second I disagree with something is when it escalates really quickly,” Genevie, a 23-year-old Denver resident, told Fox News.

To escape the hostility, Genevie once went upstairs to get away from her family. “I didn’t want to come back down,” she said, adding that the Thanksgiving cheer was diminished for her after that.


Thanksgiving is a time for good company, delicious food and family. But for people like Genevie, the fun and food-filled holiday can quickly turn contentious should politics arise.

For some families, it may be best to avoid the subject all-together, said Omri Gillath, a psychology professor at the University of Kansas whose research focuses on close relationships.

Each family is different, he said, but if “you have previous experience and know it doesn't go well, keep it off the table.”

“Make the rule clear: You’re all here to enjoy the holiday, so let’s not talk politics.”

Still, there are ways to talk politics without things turning nasty. Check out some of Gillath’s top tips.

Remember who you’re talking to

The people around the Thanksgiving table are your family members — not politicians in Washington D.C.

“You’re not a politician representing a certain party. Avoid what our representatives are doing and be nice to each other,” he said.

“You’re not a politician representing a certain party. Avoid what our representatives are doing and be nice to each other."

— Omri Gillath

Gillath also said that your family members on “both sides of the political map have uncertainties and anxieties” regarding the current administration — and encouraged anyone talking about hot-button political issues to be mindful of that.

"Prime them with a sense of security,” he said. In other words, make sure your family members feel like they are in a secure environment to share their thoughts and opinions, even if they conflict with your own.

“Take the other person’s perspective to try to understand why they feel the way they do.”


Be civil

If touchy topics come up, Gillath encouraged that those participating “keep it light “ — like throwing in an innocuous joke to prevent things from getting too heavy.

But if the conversation escalates for the worse, it’s easy to attack a family member’s personality or character when feeling upset or hurt. Gillath said to avoid this.

“One of the main issues is things can go very quickly from talking about national level to a personal one,” he said. Instead, Gillath suggested that family members “help each other understand — be specific in your argument — ‘I feel x when you’re saying y.’

“You don’t want bullying or fights that continue after the holidays,” he said.

Make someone the mediator

Delegating someone to be the conversation mediator is also a good way to keep things civil, he said.

Gillath also suggested that people can only talk when they’re holding a specific object — like a ball, for instance.


But if your family can handle it, talking politics can be important

Avoiding politics isn’t always good, Gillath said, adding that “we do need to try to open as many lines of communication as we can between the two sides.”

“Even if you know your relatives don't align with you, we need to talk to each other and people need the opportunity to talk about their concerns and worries,” he said.