There was a time—not too long ago—when political differences were less polarizing. When connecting with a potential friend or partner, your respective political leanings would become known. If there were a chasm, it wouldn’t necessarily derail the connection. There was more room for differing opinions.
More recently, it feels as if the spectrum of political stances has gone haywire. It’s far more in flux, and individuals are not so easy to predict. As a result, relationships formed before these changes may become strained or people may become estranged.
This is not something brand new. Talk to anyone who became estranged from friends and family during the Vietnam War or right after 9/11. But things have accelerated lately.
A major player in all this confusion is social media. Thanks to those mysterious algorithms, opinions can be manipulated in real-time. On top of that, disinformation—from all sides—is a catalyst for division. But, what happens when you and someone you know and love no longer agree on some core issues?
How to Keep Connecting & Communicating Openly Despite Political Differences
It comes down to being able to disagree respectfully. This is a challenge but can be learned and refined over time—if both of you are willing to do the work. With that in mind, let’s start with a basic suggestion to avoid discussing certain topics.
You may not see this idea as feasible, but it could be quite helpful while you gather yourselves. Because, seriously, when was it decreed that any two people must agree on everything? Don’t see the avoiding of topics as denial but rather, find a way to focus on common ground.
Let’s say it’s your father-in-law with whom you could wage a political war. You could fight every time you see each other. Needless to say, other options exist, such as:
- Have someone declare a moratorium on controversial topics at family gatherings.
- You can block him on social media and be civil in person.
- Prepare an exit strategy in advance for yourself in case things get tense.
You can find all the political flame wars you want online, but why? Your life will be much more balanced and satisfying if you consciously choose to behave differently, especially in your face-to-face interactions.
Speaking of Face-to-Face Interactions
If you find yourself unexpectedly and frustratingly at odds with someone you love, you do not have to view this as a crisis. If you see such a stance as more important to you than any relationship, you have the right to enforce it. Of course, each of us is allowed to have deal-breaker beliefs.
However, when you step back and survey the landscape, these sacrosanct beliefs are rare. More often than not, you’ll want to salvage the connection. Here are some tips for doing so:
- Prioritize frequent, face-to-face interactions. You can understand anyone more completely when you factor in vocal tone, facial expressions, body language, etc.
- Strengthen your foundation. What connected you in the first place? How can you work on that despite having differences in other parts of the structure?
- Really listen to hear. Do so without interrupting or challenging. The goal is to understand what your loved one is truly feeling and thinking.
- Set boundaries. As touched on above, you are not required to discuss topics that cause rifts.
- Name your emotions. What do you feel when someone disagrees with you? Why does this emotion emerge?
When the political differences are between partners in a couple, couples therapy can be the ideal setting to lay the ground rules for handling these differences respectfully. I’d love to help you in this process. Click to learn more about couples counseling. Then contact me to schedule an appointment.