To say that tension is running high after this election would be an understatement.
Elections are always a contentious time, but this one in particular seemed especially divisive to many, mainly due to how enmeshed it became in issues relating to people’s identities.
When your identity or values are challenged, it can be incredibly isolating. It can cause you question your confidence, experiences, upbringing, and how you view the world, which can be extremely upsetting and uncomfortable, provoking anxiety and resentment.
So this is probably an especially difficult time if you and your loved ones have opposing political views.
BuzzFeed Health spoke with Jean Fitzpatrick, NYC-based psychotherapist and marriage counselor, and Terri Orbuch, PhD, psychologist and relationship expert, to find the best tips for navigating those hard political talks with your loved ones who don’t share the same views that you do.
Alright, take a deep breath, and let’s get into it.
1. First, allow yourself to feel all of the emotions that this election or your opposing political views are triggering in you.
“Anger isn’t wrong and anxiety isn’t bad,” Orbuch tells BuzzFeed Health, “It’s okay to acknowledge an emotion and what it’s doing to your body — if you don’t confront it and allow yourself to feel it, it will seep out in passive aggressive actions, which will only make things worse.”
She recommends allowing yourself to feel your emotions and then taking time to identify what exactly is causing it. So for example, is it anger? Confusion? Embarrassment? Once you recognize the root of what you’re feeling, it’ll be easier to figure out how to best communicate that to your loved ones.
2. Try not to ban election talk with a person completely, unless you’ve both agreed that’s the only option.
If you automatically assume that you guys can’t handle these conversations without getting heated, you might end up missing out on opportunities to hear and support each other — and maybe even change their mind about something.
“It depends on how destructive these conversations are to the relationship,” says Fitzpatrick. “Ideally we should be able to talk about politics with loved ones, because these kinds of conversations are opportunities for us as a nation to deepen our understanding and challenge our beliefs.”
3. But instead of just impulsively talking/yelling about the election with them right now, try to plan the right time and place to have this conversation.
This can seen pretty impossible if you live together or even if you’re just used to texting each other, calling each other, or following each other on social media. But with emotions running high right now, it might be better to be strategic about how and when you have this conversation.
If you know it will be a volatile discussion, Orbuch suggests finding an appropriate time for both involved to bring it up. So maybe make a rule to never talk about it casually together, or set up a time you’re both free this week to talk about how you’re feeling — a time when you’re both calm and prepared.
4. Okay, you’re ready to have The Talk. Just check yourself before you go into it to make sure you’re really equipped to handle it right now.
“You may not have the ability to change your loved one’s mind, but you do have the ability to pay attention to and control your own body,” Fitzpatrick says. “Know what your stress level is right before the conversation starts and if you’re breathing hard and your hands are clammy, then you know you’re not ready to be in the conversation at the time.”
You’re much more equipped to handle disagreements when you’re calm. So she recommends getting some fresh air, going for a walk, rehearsing your talking points, (hell, maybe even having a glass of wine) before you talk.
5. Let go of the expectation that in order to have a strong relationship with someone you HAVE to agree on everything.
People don’t want to talk about controversial topics because they’re afraid that things will end in disagreement and that disagreement is bad, Orbuch explains. But those unrealistic expectations can just add to negative emotions. Accepting that you probably won’t agree on everything — even sometimes the things that are most important to you — will help you both from feeling so defeated when things don’t end in perfect harmony.
“We are born in different eras, we come from different households, religions, classes, and there’s no way we’re going to agree with someone on absolutely everything,” Orbuch says. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a positive and strong relationship with that person.”
6. Instead, put the importance on learning how to disagree respectfully.
“All relationships are going to have topics that can’t be resolved or agreed upon and that’s why we have to figure out how to disagree well,” says Orbuch. “There’s nothing wrong with getting upset about that, because that just means you’re a passionate person. However, it’s unproductive to go into an argument claiming you’re right and they’re wrong.”
It’s important in all relationships that you can agree to disagree respectfully on certain topics, without harboring ill feelings or holding a grudge, and then decide how to go about the subject in the future, she explains.
7. And even if you can’t validate their thoughts, try to validate their feelings. (And expect the same from them.)
As painfully hard as it is, try your best not to dismiss someone’s feelings, or the arguement will just unravel, says Orbuch. Even if you don’t agree with them, everyone is entitled to their emotions. And it’s often easier to understand where someone’s feelings are coming from than it is to understand their beliefs that you vehemently disagree with.
8. Make sure you’re really listening and not just forcing your point of view on them.
“Most people get so lost in speaking and trying to get their point of view across, that they don’t actually hear what their loved one is trying to tell them,” Orbuch says.
She proposes not just listening to what the other person has to say, but putting yourself in the mindset of a “naive psychologist” and really trying to understand what they feel and why they feel it, which may mean paraphrasing (taking what someone says and repeating it back to them in your own words to see if you’re actually following) or emotional checking (asking questions like “I can hear you’re getting upset, is that right?”) so that you’re not assuming or jumping to conclusions while they’re talking.
9. Don’t let the discussion snowball into topics that have nothing to do with politics or the election.
Unfortunately, in most fights within relationships an argument over one topic turns into a gateway for arguments on any topic you’ve ever had differences over, like not helping out around the house, forgetting the kids at school, making zero effort with the relatives, etc., Orbuch says.
In order to have a civil conversation, she suggests not “kitchen sinking” (making the conversation about absolutely everything) and sticking to just the election and politics, or else you’ll have a much bigger fight on your hands, which will be harder to bounce back from.
10. If you feel yourself losing control, pause, take a deep breath, and say you need to collect yourself before resuming the conversation.
Don’t force the conversation to keep going, especially if it’s getting ugly. Instead, Orbuch recommends pausing, focusing on your breathing, and then being honest with them about your need to step away for a second. She recommends something along the lines of:
“This has been an enlightening discussion but it’s making me angry, and one of the things I’d like to do is be more calm when we discuss this. So I’m going to go upstairs, or go outside and get some fresh air, and I hope we can continue this when I’m more calm.”
Try not to lash out or storm out on them. That will just create an awkward, high-tension situation that won’t be comfortable for either party.
11. If their social media is taking a toll on your mental health, it may be time to cut them off digitally.
If a loved one is extremely active on social media, and seeing them in your newsfeed everyday is stressing you out, it may be time to unfollow them temporarily, unfriend them, or take a break from your apps, Fitzpatrick says.
“It may be beneficial to ease up on social media when you know you’re going to see that loved one, especially if you both have a habit of pushing a political agenda through your postings,” she says. “This isn’t avoidance, it’s trying to create an emotionally safe place together, so that conflict isn’t brewing before you even see them.”
Here’s everything you need to know about how to do that on Facebook and Twitter.
12. Remember all of the positives of this person and why — political beliefs aside — you value your relationship with them.
Before you start in on your political differences, you should really take a second to think about the positives of the relationship, Orbuch says. Why were you attracted to your significant other in the first place? Why do you still enjoy that relationship with your parent or sibling? Focus on the positives first because otherwise you’ll get lost in your current frustrations.
She recommends trying to look beyond this difference (however major) and to remind yourself of the values you do have in common — like family, religion, hope, or even just shared interests.
13. Then decide what your relationship with that person means to you and what you want that to look like in the future.
It’s up to you to decide what kind of relationship you want to have with this person going forward, Fitzpatrick says, and that will help shape the way you talk about important issues like this.
If we’re talking about your significant other, or your mother, or someone else you really want to keep in your life, you may have to swallow your pride, understand you’re not going to change one other’s opinions, and figure out the best way to deal with politics in a constructive way, she explains. Whether that means, making it an untouchable topic, putting limits on how far the conversation can go, or having designated times to have a civil exchange about it.
However, if having that person in your life is severely hurting your mental health, and their political views have shed light on opposing values that you don’t think you’ll be able to come to terms with, it may be a good time to consider the pros and cons of taking some space from them or reconsidering your relationship.
14. And whenever you can, get back to doing or talking about the things you usually enjoy together.
If you’re trying to mend a relationship and bounce back from heated arguments that may have gone a little too far, Fitzpatrick suggests taking a break from politics altogether and doing something together that reminds you two of all the things you have in common.
That could be planning a hiking trip, organizing a clothing and food drive, or going to see your favorite band. Working towards a common goal and emphasizing the things you appreciate about each other could really help get your relationship back on track.
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