My husband and I had a blow-out argument about his family after visiting them over Thanksgiving. Talk about a way to celebrate gratitude.
His parents love Trump. They eat up every word he says. They want to stop the steal. They also won’t wear a mask in a store because masks make people sick. (And where they live, they don’t get kicked out for it either.)
All these things came up in our argument in the car. I cried a lot while we debated because I was furious (I’m one of those gals where yes, tears can mean I feel hurt, but they are often, for some reason, the main visual signifier of my WRATH and FURY).
A while later, after we went silent and quit talking to each other completely, I saw one of my husband’s political rants on Facebook. And in my emotional crash, I hit unfriend.
Where do you go from unfriending your spouse on Facebook?
Are we still friends IRL? Is there a future for us? Do we need to see a couple’s therapist? Am I going to regret it and sheepishly friend request him in a week so we can continue to share our love of creativity and family photos online, tail tucked shamefully between my legs?
Maybe I’ll be saying “yes” to all three of those questions later, but who knows. For now, I have to protect my mental health. I can’t read his political rants or conspiracy theories or his complaints that Facebook is censoring him anymore. Not while we’re working through this particular argument.
I can’t keep reading how Big Government might be out to get us. Or how systematic corruption could soon lead to civil war. Or that Joe Biden is going to come to our house and steal our guns. Or that pedophiles probably run the world, and everyone in power is in their pocketbook.
I can’t look at that right now. Not while we’re working through this particular argument about him and his troubled relationship with his parents. He can see that they both have an unhealthy obsession with the extreme right-wing and conspiracy theories — but he also loves them and doesn’t know what to do about it.
My fear is that, while he recognizes his parents have a major problem, he’s potentially going to follow in their footsteps.
Dealing with loved ones who are aggressive conspiracy theorists
I’m the first to admit that I’m not the best when it comes to dealing with my Trump-loving, conspiracy theorist in-laws.
I nod. I listen to their reasoning (because a logical person listens to different sides and weighs fact versus fiction before forming an opinion). I make sincere “hmm” noises and ask questions instead of debating.
Or, my son and I will try to play a little game and see which one of us can get them to change the subject first when they start in on politics. That’s really all we have in our arsenal when we’re staying as guests in their home from three states away. We don’t want to be rude.
My husband, I think, gets the brunt of my father-in-law’s theories. Including that his elderly friend’s wife got COVID-19 because she was tested for it. He believes that by testing you, the government is actually giving it to you. As someone in the medical industry, I’m not even sure how to reason with a person who will believe that.
My in-laws also believe we shouldn’t wear masks because they get dirty and people don’t clean them — so they are more dangerous than contracting COVID-19.
Hi? Hello? I can think of a REALLY easy solution to that particular problem — maybe clean your masks? Keep them as clean as possible because they are going to be right up against your mouth? Kind of like how you’ll likely get sick if you don’t clean a cutting board after you prepare raw chicken on it, you’ll also get sick if you were a dirty mask all the time.
When we visited my husband’s family last July, the mask order hadn’t been mandated yet. His father said, “Anyone wearing a mask will be dead in six months.” I asked him about the doctors and healthcare staff who wear them day in and day out during surgeries, but he assured me that this was completely different.
On our long drive home, we found out our governor had just passed the mandate. We also found out my uncle died from COVID-19 in the hospital.
I think if COVID-19 had been handled with more urgency by the Trump administration and by our governors, it wouldn’t be as bad as it is now.
To some degree, my husband and I agree on these topics. But I can see him sliding down a slippery slope into conspiracy theories and paranoia, just like his mom and dad, and it frightens me.
I imagine him shuffling around the house in his older years, barking warnings of political ruin and the end of the economy and the latest secret he’s miraculously “discovered” from a popular conspiracy YouTuber.
Newsflash — that person he constantly rants to is going to be me, and I’m not going to be able to handle it.
He and I often have civil political discussions. Sometimes, like where his family is concerned, it gets ugly. Pretty soon, it might cause more and more arguing. It might tear us apart.
I’m honest and transparent — both in my writing and in my relationships. I think there’s a time for straight-up honesty, and a time to cushion the blow or tell a white lie to protect a partner’s feelings.
But when there’s an issue in your relationship that has the potential to grow and become a huge, break-up inducing problem, that’s a time when honesty is vital.
I’ve made it clear to my husband that if he goes the way of his dad and falls into an obsession with conspiracy theories in his later years, doing nothing but rudely shoving them onto friends and family (and me) with no real evidence to show for his points, I’m out of here.
Does that sound overly harsh? Perhaps. But it’s the truth. It’s just a matter of who I am as a person. And the fact that he promises me he would never let that happen shows what’s important to him as a person. He doesn’t want to end up like his parents, and he doesn’t believe that he will.
For his sake and the sake of our relationship, I hope he’s right.
Choose love, and help others when you can
There was a time when I tried to engage with my father-in-law and argue his theories with facts and evidence. For my day job, I write for a medical research institute, and I spend a lot of hours interviewing researchers and reading peer-reviewed scientific articles.
Just a note here — I’m pretty sure, as much as I’ve visited them over the years, my in-laws still don’t know what I do for a living, even though I’ve told them. They don’t ask me much about myself — they just talk about themselves and their views.
Anyway, the journalist in me searches for reliable, unbiased, educational resources and cross-checks them with others just to be sure.
When I’ve tried to discuss conspiracy theories with my father-in-law in the past and have asked him for evidence of his concerns, his response is pretty typical of conspiracy theorists. The absence of reliable evidence clearly serves as further proof that it exists! If it got out, “they’d” be ruined, so “they” work around the clock to keep it all hidden. But — if you’re smart enough and can decipher the codes — you can uncover it.
That’s why, according to him, there’s no hard evidence or footage of reptilian humanoids. That’s why I don’t know how corrupt all Democrats truly are. That’s why people are ignorant to the fact that a new world order is being established right under our noses.
When my father-in-law and I got to arguing and I couldn’t reason with him, things would start to get loud and emotional — and therefore, completely unproductive.
People who buy into conspiracy theories often do so out of fear or because they care greatly about a certain issue. They are deeply and emotionally entrenched. Sometimes, it can be a sign of a mental health struggle, something my husband and I often worry about when it comes to his aging parents.
I’m the kind of person who will never say never. Yes, it’s possible civil war is on the horizon, but I’m not going to live my life waiting for it to happen every minute of the day. And sure, maybe, just maybe, there are aliens taking over our politicians’ bodies — but none of the aliens have come out just yet, so I’m not going to subscribe to that and shove it onto others who just aren’t smart enough to “wise up.”
I work on the assumption that I’m a human who is flawed and can make human mistakes, so I can, indeed, be wrong. It is possible.
But not everyone holds that view. Some people believe they are right, no matter what evidence is in front of them to the contrary. And in an age where false information can so easily be made to look real, people are more susceptible than ever to being duped by fake authorities.
For now, I’ve told my husband that I’ll no longer be joining him on visits to his family. I won’t ever try to control him or keep him from seeing them — I’m happy to have a few days to myself if he goes on this next visit alone. But the thing is, he doesn’t really want to endure another visit like that either. And it tears him apart because he loves his parents.
I know a lot of families are divided right now, and it’s causing some major riffs. But my in-laws and I have been divided over conspiracy theories for years now — and I only hope my husband can move past all that and reconnect with his parents in a healthy and loving way. I want to see it happen, but I’m not sure how to help.
Life is short, and the time we have is a gift. So I’ll try to stay focused on the positive and help others wherever I can. That’s one thing I can do in the face of political strife and aggressive conspiracy theorists.
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