It is no secret that the current political climate has left many people divided. Hot topics of discussion can cause both emotions and tensions to run high, which can destroy relationships… if we let it. It is easier to tactfully avoid political discussions in places like work, the gym, or at the grocery store. However it is exponentially more difficult to dodge the topic when you share a household, relationship and a life with someone. So how do you manage the discussion when you strongly believe in one party, but your partner deeply identifies with another?
A common theme among individuals and couples I see in my office revolves around the very heated political divide that our nation is facing at present. Individuals and couples say things like –
“I thought I knew my partner… but now I’m not so sure.”
“If we voted so differently does that mean we don’t share the same ethics, morals, and values?”
“I love my partner, but I’m not sure I can be with someone who thinks this way…”
Some of my patients are so bothered by the difference between the way they voted versus the way their partner voted that they are thinking of dissolving their relationships. Even if they have been together for a significant period of time, for some, years. They express anger, frustration, passion, concern and fear. Volume and tone of voice rises, body language escalates, hand gestures become more frequent and animated, vernacular and vocabulary simplifies, and the list of signs consistent with intense discomfort continues.
After having spoken to many people including: patients, friends, family, co-workers and colleagues this is a scenario that is quite familiar to many people. Although it seems to be a fairly common interaction given the political climate we live in, it was surprising to me how many people weren’t actually talking about their feelings with regard to this issue. It became clear to me that when people stated that they were “talking” to each other about politics, the reality is that many were “fighting” about politics. Often talking over each other, making snide remarks to each other, assuming the thoughts and beliefs of the other person instead of clarifying, speaking more than listening, and trying to convince their partners about why there were wrong, and attempting to sway their partner to their side.
If this is a dynamic you have witnessed, or have been a participant in, below are a few strategies to reconnect with your loved one and move forward together.
- Take a deep breath. This can help you to take an extra second to ground yourself before saying something you may regret.
- Don’t assume. A great deal of miscommunication comes from making assumptions. You can’t read each other’s minds. So don’t try. If you have questions… ask. If you don’t understand something someone said or what they may have meant… clarify
- Don’t speak out of anger. Some things we say in anger can be very damaging to our partner. Remember that even if you disagree on something, there is still room to respect each other’s differences.
- Be flexible. Sometimes we can become very invested in being “right” but at what cost? Being willing to listen to your partner and see things from their point of view is a recipe for success.
- Listen more than you speak. Sometimes silence is the best strategy for avoiding confrontation. Listen. Absorb. Reflect. Then speak.
At times politics can be messy and emotional.
When we’re highly invested in a point of view and are constantly trying to prove we’re “right” we may be completely oblivious that what we’re doing is undermining, isolating, attacking, and invalidating the person we love most.
It’s not about “converting” the other person to your way of thinking, it’s about understanding your partner’s position even if you don’t agree.