Thanksgiving is right around the corner, meaning this would normally be the time of year when you're making plans to spend time with your family, or your partner's if you're in a relationship. But like just about everything in 2020, Thanksgiving's going to be different this year. Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, you now have to factor in your health — along with that of everyone you'd be seeing during the holiday — into your decisions. That's why knowing how to talk to your partner about traveling for Thanksgiving if you don't feel safe doing so because of COVID-19 is essential, particularly if they've expressed a desire to plan a trip.
First and foremost, it's important to know your concerns are valid. Dr. Henry Walke, COVID-19 incident manager at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNBC on Nov. 19 that there's “no more important time than now for each and every American to redouble our efforts to watch our distance, wash our hands and, most importantly, wear a mask.” The health institution's advice for the holiday season is pretty straightforward: “The CDC is recommending against travel during the Thanksgiving period,” Walke said. This stance is due in large part to the recent, alarming increase in new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in the United States.
“One of our concerns is that as people over the holiday season get together, they may actually be bringing infections with them to that small gathering and not even know it," he explained. “From an individual household level, what’s at stake is basically an increased chance of one of your loved ones becoming sick and then hospitalized and dying,” Walke said. “We certainly don’t want to see that happen. These times are tough. It’s been a long outbreak.”
If you've decided that a Thanksgiving gathering is a risk you don't feel safe taking, Dr. Gary Brown, a prominent couple's therapist in Los Angeles, tells Elite Daily you need to communicate that to your partner. "It's simple, because this is about your physical health and safety and your right to control your own body," he says. While that’s unquestionably true, it can still be a difficult conversation, especially if your partner has their heart set on seeing their family. Here’s how the experts say to have the conversation.
Choose your timing wisely.
For an important conversation like this, it's crucial to ensure you approach your partner at a time that allows you to process the conversation together, advises Dr. Brown. For instance, if you're both busy during the day, bringing it up before you start work or school means you won’t have time for them to fully hear you out. In this case, Dr. Brown says it's more effective to broach the subject in the evening when you have time to talk properly. “Your best chance of being heard, and of your partner being heard, is to make sure you both have enough time to process whatever comes up in the conversation. So, make sure that you don't have plans immediately after the conversation,” he says.
It's also a good idea to have your argument as to why you feel unsafe traveling home ready as well. “While you shouldn't have to defend your decision, it can be helpful to do a bit of your own research about COVID-19. Educating yourself about the risks of travel and the possibilities of getting or transmitting this particular virus would be helpful prior to talking to your partner about it,” says Dr. Brown.
Choose your words wisely.
When it comes time to tell your partner you aren’t comfortable traveling this Thanksgiving, Susan Winter, relationship expert, love coach, and author of Breakup Triage: The Cure for Heartache, tells Elite Daily it's best to just be honest and straightforward. “State clearly why you have concerns and are unable to feel comfortable with travel at this particular time,” she says. “Begin by stating your fears, and add the necessary facts and statistics to back up your position. Explain that under reasonable conditions you'd be delighted to travel, but now is not the time to do so.”
Using "I" statements can also help keep the conversation from getting heated, or your partner from getting defensive, says Dr. Brown. He recommends opening the conversation by saying, "I know that we were thinking about traveling home for Thanksgiving and I know this is important to you," then explaining where you stand on the subject. Dr. Brown then suggests letting them know you're not coming to this decision lightly by saying, "I've been reading a great deal about this in order to make the best-informed decision possible." He also says it's good to let your partner know that you understand and validate their feelings of disappointment by telling them, “I know that this is very disappointing for you and I want to know what you are thinking and feeling about this.” Letting them know that you share those feelings as well, by saying something like, "This is also painful for me too, as I was really looking forward to being with our families for Thanksgiving,” is also important, he says, but that ultimately you've decided you don't feel that traveling is safe for you or the people you'd be visiting.
Is it possible to compromise?
While your partner might not be happy about your choice, there is perhaps some possibility that you can find a compromise, so long as you do so in a way where you still feel safe, says Winter. “The best compromise is delay. Offer to travel at a later date. Revisit the idea of travel in a month or two, depending upon the level of health risk associated with doing so,” she suggests.
Dr. Brown suggests finding other ways to still acknowledge the holiday that don't include heightened health risks. “Perhaps you can suggest some compromises such as doing a Zoom or Facebook Thanksgiving with your families. You might want to consider increasing the amount of phone contact with loved ones at home,” he says. He also recommends the option of delaying your celebrations until you can do so safely. “This could be several months away if you're not in a high-risk group, but it could give both of you something to look forward to,” he explains.
The most important takeaway here is that if, like the CDC advises, you feel it’s safest not to travel over the holidays, you have the right to assert that. “This is about your health and safety and that of your loved ones. Don't let anyone shame, guilt, or bully you into making a decision to risk exposure that you're not comfortable with,” says Dr. Brown.
While it's important to communicate your needs and choices to your partner, compromising your health and safety should never be up for debate. This year, that unfortunately includes making choices about how to celebrate the holidays. But remember: If there's one thing to be thankful for, it's the continued health of you, your partner, and the people you love.
Dr. Gary Brown, a prominent couples therapist in Los Angeles, tells Elite Daily.
Dr. Henry Walke, Director of the Division of Preparedness and Emerging Infections in the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases