The last election cycle was historic in many ways; the decisions left many relationships stressed, perhaps even spoiled and sometimes over. Contemporary politics can be much more damaging and invasive, particularly in the age of “dubious news” and “anti-social” media. With all of that in mind, it’s easy to create your own political space that solidifies your own beliefs, while leaving you refusing to consider other opinions. Sound familiar to any of you? Here are some simple ways to deal with politics and relationships.
So what do you do when that kind of divide invades your relationship?
When two opposing views clash without options for outside perspectives, people can and do, take it personally. In many clients it has trickled down into other areas of their relationships. Here are some thoughts on what to do moving forward.
Weigh the Damage
The elections over! It’s time to assess the resulting damage and reflect on where you may have done to contribute to your relationship damage. Any of these sound familiar?
· Contempt: Did you ever talk to your partner in a disrespectful way? This includes yelling, interjecting, or sidetracking/diverting rather than actually listening to your partner’s perspective.
· Diminishing: Did you ever minimize your partner’s beliefs by countering them through emotion? You weren’t debating the facts; in these instances, you’re dismissing a point of view simply because you disagreed.
· Accusations by proxy: Which one of you ever leveled the accusation at your partner of being prejudiced in a certain way because of their favorite candidate’s’ statements? It’s called the “Blame Game” and it puts people on the defensive by loading up allegations, rather than discussing things rationally.
· Bushwhacking: Did you ever see someone call out their partner among like-minded friends, putting them in an intentionally uncomfortable situation? This creates a “you, vs. your partner” mentality that only widens gaps between the two of you.
Recovery From The Wounds
The first step in repairing the damage caused by your actions during the election is to look at the points above and consider how many you may have perpetrated upon your loved one. The second step is to apologize, and really apologize, not a weak, “I’m sorry,” but a deep heartfelt apology that acknowledges what you did wrong, why it upset them, how you’d like to change, and clearly express your desire to earn their forgiveness.
Emotions are indeed still running high from the election. The days and weeks following the election continue to show us just that; from media coverage, to social/anti-social media discussions, to petitions circulating the Internet. At some point, you’ll need to hear your partner out as a way to take the final healing step.
This may or may not be the right time to do it. The best way to figure that out is to do something new, ask your partner if they’d like to talk about it.
This last election has underscored lots of issues, from economic, to foreign policy, to social and cultural issues. Just because the election is over doesn’t mean that the debate will stop any time soon. Given the reactions to the outcome and the overall provocative nature of the campaigns, odds are the players and the core issues will continue to be in the limelight until at least the mid-term elections. And at that point, just when you thought it was safe, things will begin pointing to the 2020 campaign. In short, this will probably come up again between you and your partner.
So how can you have that open and constructive talk you failed to have without descending into that familiar and contentious state of division? Consider the following steps that will lead to a healthy discussion:
· Stay courteous: Never ever raise your voice, call names (to your partner or your partner’s views), mock, or interject.
· Ask for the facts: If your partner cites something that doesn’t seem accurate, don’t immediately criticize it. Instead, cite facts. Peripheral to this, there has been much discussion lately about how social media puts a focus on clickbait and “opinion news”/propaganda. You might try, as a couple researching “opinion news” and ways to better bring facts into the discussion together.
· Be open-minded: Everyone has an opinion, even you. However, while a two-party system often creates a presentation of yes/no thinking, it is all interminably more complex. Don’t just listen to your partner; consider what they’re trying to get at. Even if you disagree with them, search for the one or two elements that you do agree with and start by discussing that. Seldom is someone totally mistaken.
· Present your point of view with understanding: Saying that factory workers are hurting or that women face discrimination might be accurate but it’s awfully clinical for a discussion. Try instead explaining the person behind the statement to your partner. What is at stake when factory workers can’t get equally high paying jobs? How do women feel when disrespect impacts their workday lives? By letting your partner feel these examples, it becomes much easier to see things from your side.
Remember, you’re in a relationship because of love, not a desire for disunion. A healthy debate over differing opinions is good in any relationship. However, if this divide grows too wide because of politics, you may need a marriage coach to discuss it. There may be underlying issues causing your relationship to fracture and you don’t want to leave them festering.
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Frank Hopkins is a life coach in Baton Rouge who is certified as a Professional Coach (CPC) by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). Frank has helped numerous people to go through emotional change in a way that is positively transformative.