Here's How To Politely Decline Your Partner's Parents' Thanksgiving Invitation

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Joining your significant other's family for Thanksgiving dinner is a huge relationship milestone, but it may be one you're not ready or able to take this year. Luckily, there are ways to say no to your partner's parents' Thanksgiving invite without causing offense. After all, there are plenty of valid reasons why you may want to RSVP no to your boo's family celebration. You may already have plans with your own relatives. Perhaps it's too expensive to travel or too difficult to take time off of work. Or maybe you simply don't want to go.

2020 has also provided another valid reason you may be uncomfortable joining another household for Turkey Day: the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. On Nov. 19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its guidelines for celebrating Thanksgiving safely, suggesting people stick to virtual gatherings or celebrate only with their immediate household.

If you initially planned to join your partner's parents for Thanksgiving, but now want to back out, here's how to navigate that conversation. "I would suggest calling rather than texting," says Talia Litman, a certified marriage and family therapist. "However, avoid catching them off guard. Text them to find a good time to speak on the phone so they are ready for the conversation."

If your partner is also declining the invitation, they can handle the phone call themselves. If only you are passing on the invitation, whoever feels more comfortable can communicate the news.

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There are ways to soften your message. "When you communicate you aren’t going to come to Thanksgiving, avoid critical or blaming statements such as, 'Your home isn’t COVID-safe enough for me,'" Litman says. "Instead, use ‘I’ statements, like, 'I've given this a lot of thought, and I'm feeling overwhelmed and nervous about traveling right now.'"

Litman also suggests relaying plenty of kind and gracious statements, including:

  • "Thank you so much for the invitation."
  • "I'm so sad that I won't be joining this year."
  • "I'm really going to miss your wonderful cooking."
  • "I'm so sorry for the last-minute plan change and the inconvenience it will cause."

Even if you break the news as politely as possible, you can't control how your partner's parents might react — and that's OK. "Lower your expectations," Litman says. "They might be upset, or even angry at first, and that's to be expected. Keep focused on maintaining a strong relationship by communicating with integrity and compassion."

With any luck, your partner's family will understand there are plenty of pressures that make celebrating holidays together tricky — including the pandemic.