The Politics of In-Laws

The Politics of In-Laws

Q: I am really trying to figure out how to not totally destroy my relationship with my in-laws who are both very verbal about their political views, which are the complete opposite of mine and my wife’s. They are coming for a visit for a week this summer and I have no idea how to deal with them without the visit ending in a total blow up. I am fine with keeping my mouth shut and not bringing up politics in order to avoid tension, but I can guarantee that is all they will want to talk about. Should I be direct with them? Or should I try to just grin and bear it and not say anything?

She: This dilemma has never been harder than in this very polarized time. It seems rare for anyone to have a neutral or moderate stance on political or social issues. It is understanding that confronting this issue can be even more difficult with in-laws, who are neither your personal family nor friends, necessarily. The title of in-law also implies that you have more of an obligation to be on good behavior.

I guess I would ask, how does your wife respond to her parents around politics or other disagreements? Does she confront it head on, or does she try a more dissociative approach? Best-case scenario is you would be able to have an upfront conversation about the differences in your views and that it would probably be best to not talk about politics in order to have an amicable visit. Also in this best-case scenario, they are gracious and agree that it is better to have a positive family visit and to put personal differences aside. I guess I would follow her lead on how to approach the situation, whether it is directly or passively. They are her parents, her blood. They are going to be more likely to forgive her a confrontation and vilify you.

Let’s talk survival… if you have kids, they are a great distraction, maybe setting them up with some activities with them, and really emphasis the importance of one-on-one time with the kids. It would also be helpful to have a solid plan with your wife on ways to excuse yourself when things are getting too much (i.e. work, gym, errands, previous obligations).

More than anything, given the discrepancies in some of your fundamental views and values, future visits should probably be limited in time and proximity. A week is a long time to spend with anyone! Let alone someone that has the potential of being a constant state of agitation to you. A shorter visit and a hotel room could ease a lot of your anxiety, and is a great way to preserve an already tenuous relationship.

He: This dilemma has always been around, but seems to be more in the forefront after the last presidential election. Political division has become our new national pastime. It’s kind of fun to watch it on the news because of the circus-like atmosphere it creates, but heated political discussions are often not that fun around the dinner table. That being said, some of the more satisfying moments I’ve had are when I’ve found common political ground with friends that have very different political views than myself. I think the satisfaction comes from finding some level of commonality in what seems to be a very polarizing subject. In some ways, it really makes you feel more connected with that person because it’s not an easy process. This may work with friends more than with other people because you already have many common threads, even if they are as trivial as liking the same TV show or restaurant. You have some foundation to withstand differing political opinions. In-laws? Probably not so much. In-laws can be annoying- the cliché’ exists for a reason. This is probably why you feel so pessimistic about the outcome. Jen discussed trying a direct and upfront conversation about not discussing politics. This seems wildly uncomfortable to me. I feel like that would just create more tension and weirdness. I would see if it is possible to use humor to diffuse any tension or ill-feelings. Joking about the extreme aspects of both edges of the political spectrum offers a lot of material. It is especially helpful if you can laugh at yourself a little as well. I think this is effective in many situations in life. If you find that your in-laws are not responding to this approach, and are continuing to be very verbal about their political views, just hold your ears and yell “Fake News!” every time they say something. This seems to have the desired effect of shutting down any meaningful political intercourse.

Dr. Jen Semmes and Andy Wilson have been (mostly) happily married for twelve years (currently happily).  They are the owners of Coastal Counseling therapy center in Carlsbad, California.  Jen holds a license in clinical social work and a doctorate in psychology, and is a therapist at Coastal Counseling. Andy just tries to hold it together.

If you, or anyone you know, has a question for ‘He said, She said’ please send a private message to Coastal Counseling on Facebook or email the question to Check us out online at

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