While political events may often seem irrelevant to family life, sometimes political passions and tensions enter the home. This may happen through a direct disagreement about a political situation, through events in the office or in the neighborhood, or through a generally polarized social atmosphere. Sadly, divisive and extreme political opinions and expressions can affect, and even dissolve, personal relationships.
When such unfortunate occurrences begin to affect families, and undermine relationships, one must find a way to step back and not get caught in zealous, aggressive partisanship. A combination of civil, rational discussion and a firm rejection of patent, inflammatory remarks is more likely to strike the right tone. Such a combination, however, is not easy to come by as political disagreements can easily escalate into an argument.
It may be helpful to lead from a place of tolerance by acknowledging the inevitability of differing opinions. We may take for granted that those closest to us share our political values when in fact they do not. This can feel distressing, even panicky for some. It might put pressure on our most cherished relationships and require great fortitude to overcome the painful sting that can come with extreme differences.
Finding common ground in today’s political climate feels impossible. Even if the shift toward a more partisan government is temporary, its current impact has been one of distress and uncertainty for many. While it may feel like there is no solution to the problem of political divisiveness, it is important to find ways to manage these differences and minimize the impact they have on our relationships with friends and family, as well as the larger community.
Political disagreements can result in anger, frustration, and anxiety. For some, historically informed conversations may yield a positive connection. For others, there may be too much difference. In any case, the current political divide carries a risk of serious disagreements and disappointment, even with those we love the most.
Here are some paths to defusing tension, reducing pressure, and allowing a civil and thoughtful conversation to take place:
- Start early. Helping your children learn to have healthy debate and conversation has numerous benefits for the family. Perhaps use dinner time to encouraging discussion. Further, your children will be able to speak to peers in various settings such as school, extracurricular activities, and gatherings when you are not present.
- Try to keep directly politicized conversations to a minimum; don’t try to convert family members to a different political opinion or coach them into voting for a particular candidate. Instead, try to focus on tolerance and civil discourse.
- In additional to having political conversations (where unavoidable) look for a common, apolitical ground. Draw back from our politics of unreason in which every engagement with the opposition is seen as a prelude to the apocalypse.
- Maintain a sensible attitude: “alternative facts” should not subvert the notions of factuality, evidence, and objectivity.
- Strive to encourage an open-minded, compromising spirit.
- Take issue with the action and not the person acting. It can be difficult to separate objectionable and negative behaviors from the person implementing them. Well-intentioned people who have not reflected on their habits and unconsciously absorbed opinions may perpetuate attitudes and stereotypes, and this can be hard to tolerate.
- Treat dissensions rooted in politics the way you would treat any tensions in the family: within a broader, systemic perspective. Think of deeper and more lasting similarities and alliances, not of particular, spur-of-the-moment disagreements.
For those who are struggling with the tensions and possible dissolution of relationships under pressure, a marriage and family therapist (MFT) can help. It is more important than ever to heal the wounds that serve to divide us. Finding ways to bridge the political divide, learning from our setbacks, and healing the pain that has been inflicted by political disagreements is a path forward.