Help me walk away from political arguments with relatives.
November 25, 2006 12:08 AM   Subscribe

Help me cope with post-political-argument-with-relatives stress disorder.

My girlfriend's family is by-and-large right-wing, (she's not) and while I get along pretty well with the nuclear family, her uncle loves to play Archie to my Meathead. Only, I'm not a very natural political fighter, and while I stand my ground successfully (and we end on genial terms), it takes a huge toll on me afterwards.

I find myself stewing -- continuing the argument in my head for hours, imagining better responses I could've made, and getting really, really angry. It's really the only situation where I feel like that, because in general I'm a pretty peaceful guy.

So, mefites -- I know some of you must have similar arguments with the relatives around the holidays. How do you cope with the aftermath? Is it weird that I get this stressed out? Should I be looking toward anger management techniques, even if it's all after-the-fact?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've certainly run into this problem myself. The only solution I know of is to unload my frustrations in another political debate, usually online. However, I like political debate and am generally pretty comfortable engaging in it. You, on the other hand, seem to be saying that it's something you'd just prefer not to do, period. If that's the case, I'm guessing my solution won't work for you.

Is there any other arena in which you enjoy being aggressive? Even if it's just a computer game or laser tag or something like that, it might help.
posted by Clay201 at 12:37 AM on November 25, 2006

I used to get so stressed out, that i made the decision (which won't help you just now, but maybe in the future) not to discuss politics or religion or sex or money. In fact, if someone else does, I just smile and ask them what they think and how they feel about that, and what they think will be the result.

In the meantime, I have just now had an argument with my teenage daughter. I hurt her feelings by discussing some family stories. I have apologised but I feel distressed that I ruined a really lovely afternoon. So, I'm going to do a Scarlett O'Hara and not think about it. In a year's time, less, what will be remembered of this day, by her, is the fun and that I apologised and that she can trust me to listen to her when she has a gripe. So for now, I will just have to accept that it happened and in order to deal with it, I'll go to metafilter or something, maybe cook dinner, and just try not to think about it.

Sorry, didn't mean to make this all about me, just trying to empathise.
posted by b33j at 12:41 AM on November 25, 2006

Take a tip from Linus van Pelt: never discuss religion, politics, or the Great Pumpkin.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:51 AM on November 25, 2006

My family knows the subjects that I'm not willing to discuss, and I know theirs. If someone specifically asks me a question that I know someone is going to get pissed over, I look them right in the eye and say "I respect that we have different views but if I respond, we are going to get in a fight. Do you want to be in a fight with me? Because of you do, I will leave." And if they persist, I leave.

I love my family, but there are some subjects we will never agree on. For one of us to try to change the other's mind is a waste of time.

It used to be that trips home would be a minefield, never knowing when someone would drop a bomb. However with time, we've all figured out 1) How to not provoke the others and 2) That no one likes it when they're provoked. Since then I really enjoy the time I spend with my family and instead of visiting every 2-3 years, I visit 2-3 times a year.
posted by Ookseer at 1:08 AM on November 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

Kind of paraphrasing what others have said... if it makes you feel miserable, don't do it. Set your boundaries and stick to them
posted by edgeways at 2:29 AM on November 25, 2006

You have my most sincere sympathies. Though he knows not to discuss certain subjects with me, my Uncle Archie will still try some jabs attempting to provoke me. I ignore him for the most part, and when he gets really irritating, I start singing Uncle Fucka in my head to tune him out. While the song is about [verb]ing uncles and not [adjective] uncles, it has the requiste amount of 'fucks' and other hideous language in conjunction with 'uncle' to stop me from actually saying all those 'fucks' in front of the rest of the family through grinding teeth.

That's my coping mechanism, but he's my blood relative. As the SO, you might feel as if you're being seen as fresh meat, so to speak. I agree with others above regarding setting boundaries, but walking out after a few jabs might be going past the boundaries of diplomacy with which you currently feel comfortable. If so, I would enlist your girlfriend to pull her Uncle Archie aside and tell him to knock it off while you take a nice calming walk around the block.

As for the post traumatic stress now, keep telling yourself that it is enlightening to see the (even faulty) logic of other so that your own ideas are better fleshed out.

Or just go punch a pillow for 30 minutes. Batting cages are also useful for this purpose. *THWACK!* :)
posted by romakimmy at 3:56 AM on November 25, 2006

I find myself stewing -- continuing the argument in my head for hours, imagining better responses I could've made, and getting really, really angry.

that stuff ruins your day, let it go: just visualize -- in the most graphic way possible -- the guy spouting off his vile bullshit while sitting at the holiday table in the company of charred Iraqi corpses, mutilated 19-year-old American GIs, Rush Limbaugh's drug dealer and a few women who have bled to death after botched, backalley abortions.

I'd advise you to visualize Saddam's WMDS, too, but you cannot visualize what doesn't exist. good luck and happy holidays
posted by matteo at 4:36 AM on November 25, 2006

You really want to argue?
Why are you even bothering? Realistically nobody ever had their mind changed this way.

That's why they're called "beliefs" and not "well reasoned out opinions."
posted by filmgeek at 4:51 AM on November 25, 2006

Whenever I ruminate about anything - an argument like this for instance - I distract myself until those feelings just dissipate on their own.

I'll never be able to use those better phrases that I think of after the fact because the moment has passed. It's all passed. I can no longer affect it anymore. So I'm going to try and not let it affect the present moment.

I do this by immersing myself in something that I have to be present in right then. Another conversation that's not so conflicted, exercise, cleaning up my house - anything that's a positive activity in my life. I think only of that activity and refuse to think about the argument. Basically find some way to be where you are now - because you're no longer in that argument.
posted by dog food sugar at 5:36 AM on November 25, 2006

... her uncle loves to play Archie to my Meathead. Only, I'm not a very natural political fighter...

Do you also love playing Meathead? Or is that something you do for his benefit? I'm guessing that you don't want to be Meathead.

If this is the case, why play that game? Change the subject before it becomes a big argument. As others have noted, neither of you will "win" the argument and neither will change minds.
posted by Robert Angelo at 6:19 AM on November 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

I don't argue politics much, so my experience is from other areas of discussion, but I think it would still apply. When I find my brain circling for ages about what I could have said or how I could argue my point, the only thing that reliably makes it quiet down is writing it all out. Once it's all on paper, my brain lets it go.
posted by daisyace at 6:23 AM on November 25, 2006

Sounds like your girlfriend's uncle is one of those people who love to argue about politics, and can't imagine how anyone else couldn't. Unless he's a jerk, he'll respect your request (communicated privately, before the next holiday), not to talk politics. If you want to make it less personal, say that your girlfriend asked you because she hates to see you two fight.

However, you should reflect that it could be a sign that your politics are changing. There's little that's more agitating than having to defend a sentimental attachment to ideas one no longer truly believe in. Remember that many liberals started out conservative, and vice versa.
posted by MattD at 6:56 AM on November 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

If talking politics stresses you out, don't talk politics.

If you believe that political opinions are something about which intelligent people of good will may disagree in good faith, you are equipped to talk politics with just about anyone without losing your cool.

If you don't believe that, you likely aren't going to be able to talk politics with someone who disagrees with you without feeling personally attacked, so don't do it.

BTW, filmgeek, I *have* had my mind changed on some issues through political discussions and being forced to think about and defend my arguments. Although I am a libertarian-leaning conservative, I have learned some things and changed my mind as a result of discussions with others, and I hope that others may have had occasion to learn something from me from time to time, too.
posted by enrevanche at 7:20 AM on November 25, 2006

A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?
posted by kirkaracha at 7:49 AM on November 25, 2006 [5 favorites]

If nobody ever talks politics, then everyone's political opinions will be naïve and poorly informed.

I think it's better to learn how to talk with someone you fundamentally disagree with without getting worked up or stewing afterwards. I don't have a really concrete suggestion — I have the same problem you do — but IMHO avoiding the conversation is a short term solution at best. If it's not politics, it'll be the food, or talking about someone you know, or sports...

I find that talking with people I mostly agree with about things we disagree about helps me deal with people I have deeper disagreements with.
posted by hattifattener at 11:43 AM on November 25, 2006

Others have spoken well on how to prevent this in the future, but to help you now, I think romakimmy has the right idea.

I'm not big into sports, but I could see going to a batting cage or golf driving range as providing just the right amount of needed focus and physical exertion to completely clear your head. If your in to shooting, going to the range would also probably work for much the same reason.

Basically, do something that is going to require your complete focus if you want to do it properly, then throw yourself at it for an hour or two. If it physically exhausts you when you are done, so much better. Because that way when you come down, all you'll be thinking about is how beat you are, not some stupid argument you had a couple of days ago.
posted by quin at 12:25 PM on November 25, 2006

I will jump on the bandwagon and also suggest to not talk politics. My in-laws and my parents have very strong political beliefs. Politics are a huge part of their lives and there always used to be heated debates. Especially between my husband who is a liberal, and my father who is a die-hard Republican to the extreme.

I used to get into little discussions and debates with my in-laws and my father. I don't any longer because they both can be annoyingly irrational. Now I smile and listen, but never discuss, unless I can agree. Usually I say something vague, such as, "yes, the situation is terrible." That gets them off my back because it sounds like I am agreeing with them. And usually I am, because the situation is usually always terrible.

So my advice would be listen, and nod, and play it cool and polite. You can be the more dignified person in the room. Pretty soon the uncle may realize that he is spouting nonsense and nobody is going to play along.

It is still considered rude to discuss politics at dinner parties, get-togethers, etc. but I think people have forgotten this due to our obsessive interest in politics.
posted by LoriFLA at 1:08 PM on November 25, 2006

You have two options here:

1. Buddhistic calm. You only get angry if you allow him to make you angry. Just let his arsey prejudice float over you. Develop pity. You feel sorry for the guy. He doesn't know any better because he is inferior to you. That's a shame. You wish you could help him out but alas, you can't. Poor, poor man. Make him cups of tea and be exceptionally nice to him. You'll go home feeling much calmer and more virtuous.

2. Annihilate him. Question spot before you meet him. Read his newspapers. Find out what's leading the news bulletins. Then read every fact about the issue. Find out what books have recently been published on the subject. Quote them liberally. Bombard him with facts and figures. Quote academics, philosophers and civic leaders. Be erudite. Respond to every mistake and half-truth he utters. Prevent him from developing his argument by challenging every assertion. You'll never be top of his Christmas card list but he'll get off your back in time for next year's family gathering.
posted by baggymp at 1:36 PM on November 25, 2006

Why argue about politics at all? I don't get it. Why not talk about something else?
posted by chunking express at 1:58 PM on November 25, 2006

If nobody ever talks politics, then everyone's political opinions will be naïve and poorly informed.

I don't think that's what people are advising here. Rather, why argue for the sake of argument, especially if it leaves you upset?

The "Archie vs. Meathead" paradigm does not provide enlightenment. I think it reinforces naive and uninformed stereotypes, especially if it takes the form of people repeating arguments they've heard on those many, many argumentative TV shows (and if I dare say, blogs). It's the family equivalent of Point-Counterpoint -- remember SNL's "Jane, you ignorant slut!" In other words: entertainment, and not discourse.

hattifattener: I'm not meaning to criticize you here. I wonder if there's a way to turn these sorts of "Archie vs. Meathead" conversations into a dialogue instead of a contest. If not, it probably is better to avoid them unless one finds them entertaining.
posted by Robert Angelo at 4:10 PM on November 25, 2006

I had to deal with a guy like that twice, two nights a week apart. I spent a lot of time fuming after the first night, and then a week later he started in on us again. Most of his views were of an anti-socialist type bend, so when he get up in our grills, unwarranted, I said, "You're so right. In fact, today, we kicked some homeless people!" and my girlfriend lifted her glass and everyone had a good cheer, and he was left spluttering in the corner.
posted by jon_kill at 2:00 PM on November 27, 2006

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