Monday, June 28, 2010

Dear ESB: How can I silence my Reagan-worshipping in-laws?

I love my man. I love his family. I however, hate their politics (unbelievably conservative). It's the usual Obama is sending our country to hell in a hand basket, Hillary Clinton (whom I love and admire) is a carpetbagger etc... Whenever we are together, I find myself cowering in my seat, sipping my wine and just waiting for the subject to change. Which is really hard for me as I am very outgoing and outspoken, especially when it comes to politics (and even more so when they don't really know what they're talking about...). The family pretty much knows I come from a liberal view-point and they still say stuff that I find offensive i.e. "only smart people are conservative." I keep my mouth shut because I can just imagine a petty argument  blowing up into something worse and don't want to ruin a relatively great night.

My question is, when we have our own house am I allowed to instate a no-politics law? They LOVE talking about it and I don't want to feel like I'm running a communist household... but when I'm 5-1 in the corner I don't feel like listening to that in my own home. My fiance and I get along fine because he is rather apathetic to politics, but should I expect him to stick up for me when his family starts acting like inconsiderate idiots? What about the wedding? I am mortified just thinking about what might come up at the rehearsal dinner, etc... when his Reagan worshiping family and my liberal family come together. What do you think?


"FUCK THAT" was about all I could come up with. Not very helpful. So I outsourced this one to the politically savvy, Canadian (Read: Diplomatic) Accordions and Lace.

Here's what she had to say: 

So the less conciliatory side of me wants you to email your in-laws a link to this study which correlates liberal politics with higher intelligence. Because two can play at that game. (And it is totally infuriating the way in which "liberal" and "progressive" have become dirty words in the United States, something which I find baffling and which makes me want to punch your in-laws in the nose.) But let's pretend that we're more mature than that.

In my own relationship, my husband is the one with the jerky right-wing in-laws: my parents. (Although recently, my father's responses to the financial crisis have involved him espousing essentially communist ideology, which is hilarious.) And so I've been in your partner's position, only I'm as much of a feisty progressive as he is. And I think the golden rule of dealing with in-laws that applies to all situations of conflict applies here: it falls on the partner who is related to these godforsaken people to be the one who tries to make peace. He needs to talk to them, not you. Just as I deal with my parents' offensiveness, not my husband. It would not be fair for it to fall on you.

All that he can really ask of them is that they recognize that some of what they're saying is offensive to you, and cut it out in your presence, for the sake of family harmony. This also means that you don't rile them up either. You can't change them, they can't change you, and they will probably always think you are a stupid liberal. But he can absolutely say to them, "Hey, it hurts X when you talk like that, and makes her feel like she is not welcome in our family, so could you please just watch yourselves around her."

My parents know I disagree with a lot of what they believe (to be fair, they're not Reaganites or anything that extreme). I know they disagree with me. My parents are just about the least tactful people in the world, but nevertheless we have learned to be careful around each other. That's about the best that I think you can hope for.

(Photo by Josh Goleman)


  1. honestly, i would send them the link... but that's probably because i don't mind being a douche. and i know two wrongs don't make a right, but sometimes they're very good at making people shut the f*ck up. :)

  2. To be fair, I'm from Quebec, and we're not very diplomatic at all. :)

  3. Brilliant advice. They aren't required to change their politics, but they are required to be polite. If they can't be polite while discussing politics (which I have to admit is difficult for almost everyone) then they should lay off, at least while they're at your house. And he should communicate the ground rules to his parents directly.

    Having been raised by hippie parents in a county that is a republican stronghold, I can tell you that it is possible to come to a peaceful political stalemate. All parties just need to know what topics are off the table.

  4. Oh, how I can relate. Though it's not just my in-laws but also some of my own relatives. Since I'm the more progressive/liberal one, I generally just choose to bite my tongue, if the subject comes up, because I find that it's really not worth getting into an ugly fight.

    I absolutely agree that your husband should be the one to say something to his parents. They are his parents, after all. Surely, if they want to talk politics, they can find a way to do it in a calm, civil manner and without insulting you. Right? Maybe? If things continuously get out of hand, I don't think it would be an issue to institute a no-politics policy when they're at your house. It's not like you didn't try to work it out.

  5. you have every right to say what happens/what doesn't happen in your home. as for the ignorant ass conversations... i think accordions and lace summed it up perfectly.

    a lot easier said and done, though. trust me. it's a long, hard, annoying ass road with in-laws, but we all go through it.

    feel free to lay the law down at your wedding. it's your day. i have a very inappropriate friend who likes to smack her lips and make grunting noises at attractive women... yea, don't ask me why i keep her around... but i've charged another friend to keep her in check. if she steps out of line, even an inch, my friend will let her know what's up. not to say you should pass off your dirty work, but it may be helpful to let someone else know about your concerns.

    don't let them steal your sunshine, girl!

  6. "And I think the golden rule of dealing with in-laws that applies to all situations of conflict applies here: it falls on the partner who is related to these godforsaken people to be the one who tries to make peace. And I think the golden rule of dealing with in-laws that applies to all situations of conflict applies here: it falls on the partner who is related to these godforsaken people to be the one who tries to make peace. "
    So so true. Its easiest this way.

    I think a "no politics" rule at the wedding events and in your house is perfectly reasonable.
    For wedding events, I'd say the same thing applies to derisive comments about religion, gender, sexuality, etc... You know, just so we're being fair and not singling out the offending parents completely.

  7. My partner had to ask his grandfather to kindly STFU with all political emails and discussions. And by kindly, I mean kindly. It really wasn't a discussion about politics at all, and more about respect for him and all the parts of their grandfather-grandson relationship that had nothing to do with politics.

    "I still love you, but we're going to have to agree to disagree about this one and agree to never talk about it again. For the sake of family harmony with my new wife" sounds about right. Firmly and repeatedly, if necessary.

    At this point, his right-leaning family and my left-leaning family have all been warned to kindly STFU at the wedding. Out of respect for the wedding and their children.

    And, out of respect for their traditions, I'll probably continue to STFU if politics come up around their Thanksgiving table, because its their home and I'm still getting comfortable knowing them all. 10 years from now, when we all *feel* like family, who knows. But for now, I'll hold my tongue and he'll ask them to do the same for me.

  8. When I read this, the first thought that came to mind was that maybe they're saying these innane and over the top things not because they actually believe them but because they are trying to get a reaction out of you. I could be wrong, but I know that my future father in law is one of those types. He deliberately says outrageous things (and I mean OUTRAGEOUS) to test his boundaries with you and see if you are willing to play along with him.

  9. Next time it's brought up, politely (i.e. feign interest here) ask your future in-laws if they were brought up in more liberal or more conservative households. Find a way to say "I was raised to think it's rude to speak of politics incessantly, especially in front of company with opposing views".

    It sounds snobby & rehearsed, but if they're half as stuffy as they seem, nothing would get to them like insulting their manners

  10. Ugh, I can totally relate to this. My ex-BF is a Tea Partier, in true Richie Rich fashion, with his family disliking liberal politics because why should THEY have to pay for health care and education for those who can't afford it?

    I almost lost it one day when they were discussing the wiretapping nonsense from about 4 years ago and how staunchly in support they were of it. His sister said, "When are these liberals going to GET IT? How much do the terrorists need to blow up?"

    I wanted to say, "The US could be an effing CRATER, and I'll stand in the middle of it and shout for my civil rights, thankyouverymuch." I didn't. I went outside (I had already went to the other room so I didn't start a fight), and called my mother to vent.

    I don't really have any advice, because we broke up (that's not why, though honestly it didn't help), just sympathy.

  11. I'm in the same boat, involving both religion and politics, and the future in-laws are so loud mouthed about it that I want to scream. But instead I sit there politely and pretend that I give a shit.

    Instead sometimes I slyly under my breath or in the middle of conversation mention my admiration for Obama and how I would have voted for Hillary Clinton and when they say WHAT?! I say, Oh nothing. It drives them nuts, about as nuts as their bullshit shenanigans drive me. I know it's immature but hey, it's an even playing field my friend. I think making your home (and your wedding for that matter) a politically neutral environment is completely fair, it's your house/your wedding. Everyone else's opinions can go to hell.

  12. ^^ can I add to all of this sage advice, try not to drink too much aorund them ;) I find that my intention to STFU re: politics goes completely out the window when said discussion happens over a bottle of red.

  13. Say Holli's comment!! Its fantastic, wish I had the guts to say that;0) But I'd probably stick to the getting my husband to say something to them, for the sake of peace, and then if they still didn't stop...well, then I'd MAKE myself say Holli's comment!

  14. yes! great advice! and you and your partner totally get to set the rules of your household - and wedding. For the wedding, definitely let them know ahead of time that you'd appreciate if politics were left alone at the wedding.

    good luck!

  15. OOH girl I feel you. That blows. My FH's family (his sister's family, since she's like his mother) was hardcore on the McCain train and it was super awkward to be at their house on election night when I was filled with excitement and hope and they were full of dread and anger. Plus it makes me so sad to hear their 10-year-old child parroting all the awful opinions they'd shared with him. I have no good advice, just saying I know how you feel and so far all I've done is cringe at their ignorance and shut up.

  16. I think Ms. A&L did a brilliant job, and I want to sign on the line in agreement.

    That said, I also want to echo what Erica said. It's possible that they are trying to get a rise out of you, and that might not be a bad thing. Some families are loud and crazy debaters (mine is), and that can be an adjustment for people from less loud families. I think if we had someone with different politics come into the mix, we'd try to get a rise out of them... and when they finally bit, we'd be like "FINALLY! You said what you thought! Yayyyy!! Now let me tell you why you're wrong." Because for us, if you aren't debating and in the fray, then you're not fully included in the family... so we try to get a rise out of people to show we love them. I'm not even joking. We'd *never* be able to shut up, so we'd just need to be reminded to make sure the other person was included in the yelling.

    So, it might be worth thinking if that might be part of the dynamic at play.

  17. My two cents is that I think you have every right to speak up, especially in your own home but even in theirs. If they're just talking politics and not saying anything egregiously offensive you can just say, "Oh, let's not talk politics. Otherwise you're going to have to listen to my liberal tirade." Or just, "I love you guys, but I so disagree with you on that. Let's talk about something else." But if it's something that is actually insulting like liberals don't have brains or something, you have every right to say that they are offending or insulting you! Then your man should act as enforcer. As for rehearsal dinner or what-have-you, definitely your fiance should tell them that your family has very different political opinions and ask them to refrain from talking politics. And I guess you should do it with yours. I'm sure both sides will understand that. Of course, I'm rather outspoken and have no qualms, really, about arguing with my fiance's family on the subject. Gradually everyone's learned not to bring politics up in the first place except for one boor who gets shut down every time he does. If the whole family knows it leads to an argument, you'll find allies in keeping the peace. Why should you be the only one suffering? And, yes, I think a no politics rule in your house is totally a good idea. Who could argue with that? Good call.

  18. The one who shares DNA with the aggressors needs to be the one to try to keep the least the first time. He needs to talk to them and let them know they are being disrespectful with their blanket insults to liberals, ie YOU. However, if they c o n t i n u e to belabor the effing point you have every right to speak up and tell them you'd be happy to engage in a little civil discourse, but as long as they are simply slanging insults there will be no politics in your home.

    My fiance's sister is apolitical and is marrying into a clan of Reaganites. She, after years of enduring superficial digs going back and forth between her liberal mom and conservative fiance, had to put an absolute moratorium on politics and everything has been so much more pleasant.

  19. Oh goodness, how I can relate to this (though fortunately, it was my grandfather's husband and not an in-law of any kind). My grandmother's husband worked for the state department for 30+ years, so when I say he was a Reaganite I mean there are pictures of him and Ronald acting like bffs all over their home. At his funeral a few months ago, one million conservative bigwigs (including a former secretary of state) were there.

    This man was not only conservative but absolutely brilliant. He wouldn't just talk politics in front of me-- he would ask for my opinion and then make comments to imply how completely ignorant I was on the matter. (Which, compared to him, I probably was. But I still think I'm entitled to my own politics.) No one really gets anywhere by arguing that liberals are smarter than conservatives or vice versa, so I would keep that one to yourself when you're around them. (Private mutterings are totally justified, however.)

    I mostly kept quiet around him and learned the art of deflecting uber-conservative rants with humor. I think humor is a great tool when dealing with difficult people, and it helps you keep your feathers unruffled. I also talked to my grandmother about it, and everyone agreed on a "no politics when certain family members are in town" rule. I think this policy is totally acceptable and something you should institute when you can, but just realize that their politics are never going to go away and that your own confidence and sense of humor will help you through your relationship with your in-laws in the long term.

  20. Excellent advice. And I feel your pain. My family (who I am not close to at all) is very conservative. But they are sort of ignorantly conservative, meaning they could not carry on an intelligent conversation about politics at all. Would it be incredibly satisfying to debate circles around them with everything that we know? Yes, of course. Is it worth it? Ehhhhh....not really. We are not going to change their minds, and they sure as hell are not going to change ours, so it's better to just not talk about it. But I whole-heartedly agree that it "falls on the partner who is related to these godforsaken people to be the one who tries to make peace".