As a Marriage and Family Therapist and relationship expert, my busiest time of year seeing patients is Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve. The reason for this is that people have lots of anxiety about family gatherings. To help you avoid sitting on the Therapist’s couch this Holiday Season, I’ve come up with a list of topics to avoid at the Thanksgiving table.
7 Topics to avoid in conversation over the holidays.
1. Past and present family drama.
When you’re thinking about what not to talk about at Thanksgiving dinner, be sure to steer clear of existing or past family drama. Discussing existing family drama will usually end up in each family member taking sides.
There is not one sing good thing that happens at a family get-together when people start teaming up against one another (except of course when you’re playing touch football to work off that extra piece of pumpkin pie).
There’s also nothing worse than bringing up past issues within the family. For example, when Mom says “remember when you were 16 and you didn’t come out of your room to eat with us because we wouldn’t let you date so-and-so?”
When something like this happens, it’s okay to say something like, “Mom, let’s not get into discussions about negative things from the past. Let’s stay in the moment and enjoy each other’s company.”
The risk of this maneuver is that Mom may be upset that you placed a limit on her behavior. But you matter too. It’s okay to have boundaries in terms of how you let others treat you.
Added bonus: If you have children, you are role modeling that it’s healthy to stand up for yourself.
2. Parenting advice.
Even though intentions may be good, if parenting advice rears its head in a conversation, try to pivot as quickly as possible. No one likes to feel criticized about their parenting style and there’s never really an appropriate time to discuss such a personal matter at a festive event.
This is another good topic to avoid. When and if a couple decides to have children is a very personal choice. Quite often, there’s usually a lot of very private information that goes into it, including struggles with conceiving, health, and finances.
Additionally, and I hope this is obvious to anyone reading this, never assume that someone is pregnant unless they actually tell you.
Discussions about finances should also be avoided. Money and the handling of it no one else’s business. You never really know if there may be a deeply personal issue as to why it appears a family member is overextended on their credit cards, or perhaps has their home in foreclosure.
For example, the financial difficulties others see could be caused by medical debt. One partner of a couple may be very ill and not comfortable sharing this information with extended family and/or maybe they don’t want others to feel sorry for them.
There could also be a gambling addiction going on, or a sudden job loss. Whatever the reason is, it’s no one else’s business and if the discussion leads to finances, it’s best to refocus.
Consider this one of the top topics to avoid in conversation and a great example of what not to talk about at Thanksgiving dinner.
5. Diets and calorie intake.
Comments about how much or how little a person is eating is a great topic to avoid. If someone is overweight, trust me, they know it. If someone has other issues with food, the Thanksgiving table is not the place to discuss it.
A recent study showed that 40% of people say that today’s political climate has caused them to have strained family relationships. Obviously, if you know that everyone sitting around your holiday table isn’t like-minded politically, statistics show us that politics is one topic you’ll definitely want to avoid.
If you were looking for holiday debate topics most likely to turn into fights, however, this would be at the top of the list.
As the saying goes, “never talk about politics or religion.” Thanksgiving topics of conversation should probably not deviate from this rule.
Studies have shown that 43% of religious people tend to talk with others about religion, whereas only 1 in 5 people who consider themselves not to be religious bring up the topic.
What a person believes or doesn’t believe when it comes to religion is deeply personal. No one wants to feel pressured to convert and at the same time, no one wants to feel pressured to give up on their religious beliefs.
Therefore, it’s usually a good decision to leave religion out of discussions at holiday gatherings, as it’s one of the biggest topics to avoid in conversation overall.
Christina Steinorth-Powell is a Licensed Psychotherapist and the author of the new book Cue Cards for Men: A Man’s Guide to Love and Cue Cards for Life: Thoughtful Tips for Better Relationships.