Agree to Disagree

photo  by Marco Verch  (cc by 2.0)

photo by Marco Verch (cc by 2.0)

He’s for Donald, she’s for Hillary - how do you keep your relationship from exploding?

The divisiveness of this 2016 presidential election is bringing out a level of vitriol that is disheartening to many many people.  It’s also creating a disturbing level of distress in couples, parents and their children, extended families and friends.  Whoever wins, the national conversation will remain heated and the tension in families may prevail.  How to navigate powerful differences in political opinion among family members and friends is crucial in not allowing the current political climate of mud slinging to infect our dearest relationships. 

The contentiousness of this political season has invaded our personal spaces in a way that is almost impossible to ignore or stay on the sidelines.  What’s been said by and about each candidate   touches something deeply in us, and we react strongly.  What may have caused a casual shrug in the past as in, “oh, yeah she’s a diehard Democrat, you can’t change her mind, oh well.”  Or, “ You know that Uncle Ricky is a single-issue voter on pro-choice, so don’t go there when he comes to dinner. “ What’s been no big deal then is now a big deal.

Couples have managed to keep their political differences from causing major ruptures throughout political seasons.  They are now finding themselves struggling.  How to talk to their children about their differences becomes difficult.  Adult children may find it harder to accept the differences between themselves and their parents and vice versa.  With all the divisiveness that has become so ugly and so pervasive across the headlines and social media, we need to preserve that which is closest to our hearts.

What you need to consider in your relationship

There are many partners who don’t consider themselves very political.  There are couples who have opposing views who’ve managed to live with their differences, more or less peacefully.  Sometimes just keeping particular subjects off the table is the best solution.  

However, when passion runs deep, you need another path. When your eyes fall on the latest piece of provocative news, it’s so easy for sparks to fly when you shout, “how can you possibly vote for someone who . . . .  You need to read this!!” 

This is a time that demands thoughtful conversation and reflection.  Do you know why your partner is supporting the other candidate?  Do you fully understand why her reasons are important to her?  Knowing what you know about your partner, do his reasons make sense to you? 

Sometimes political views are simply about strongly held beliefs.  However, often there’s an emotional thread that is triggeredby a candidate that goes way back in your life. It dips into a pool of ‘felt experience’.  It then impassions your responses of today.

If your husband supports Trump because he admires Trumps’s anti-establishment stance, what might this have to do with his personal experience? Might he have been a boy who felt different, left on the outside of the mainstream, or was he bullied by someone along the way? This might make him respect Trump’s ‘in-your-face’ attitude.  Does he think his career has been adversely affected by Democratic policies? These types of experiences run deep.  A successful businessman who rails against the status quo seems like salve on a wound. 

If your wife supports Clinton because she firmly believes Clinton is the only one who supports women, you may accept that on its face.  But you can’t believe she seems to be ignoring other important issues.  You could wonder what discrimination your wife might’ve experienced. You could wonder if she was a victim of inappropriate behavior or harassment at some point in time. 

How to approach these dicey topics 

These possibilities warrant a genuine and sensitive inquiry.  A good way to start would be,  “Harry, I know we both feel strongly about who we’re voting for.  I really do want to understand why you’re voting the way you are.  I’m going to listen without interrupting you.”  

You’ll learn something when you really listen with an open heart and mind.  Perhaps you can put some pieces together from what you already know about your partner.  Although it’s not easy, understanding the fuller picture of what’s driving your partner’s feelings helps. Understanding makes it much easier to find your way to agree to disagree.

How to protect your kids

Also important to remember in crazy times is that parents have a responsibility to provide a safe and loving atmosphere for their children.  If you’re arguing, taking pot shots or making disparaging comments to each other, then you’re not doing your job in this respect.  It’s very important to discuss with your children that mom and dad love each other, but they have opposing opinions about the presidential candidates and that’s okay.  It’s just how life is. 

It’s very healthy to have respectful conversations in front of your kids about your views that air differences. Children need to experience a model for conflict being discussed in a constructive manner.  This is a beautiful way to teach them that you can love each other and disagree sometimes.  

If you do argue, allow your kids to witness you repairing that argument with an apology.  Even if you feel you only contributed two percent to the confrontation, it’s important to apologize.  This is one of those teachable moments that will serve them well over a lifetime.

Keeping the peace among friends and extended family

Tensions among friends and extended family are also running high.  Now that social media is a mainstream of communication among everyone, it’s contributing to the expression of opinion thatotherwise would be less likely to happen.  People are posting online something that’s provocative, or even a direct attack, that they would not do face to face.  

Imagine a family reunion picnic with burgers grilling, a softball game underway, kids playing frisbee.  There’s less likelihood of an intense political discussion to occur.  However, in this election with so many intense feelings and opinions being aroused, there’s a keyboard right there to pop off your reaction in an instant.  At that picnic, you preserve those relationships just because you’re family.   The seemingly anonymity of social media can permit your filter to malfunction. 

If you’ve broadcasted something in the heat of the moment, call her up and tell her that your friendship is too important to you to let this stuff get between you and make amends.

It’s unlikely that your marriage or friendship is based on the definition that you agree on everything.  Trump and Clinton may be bringing up differences that just haven’t come up before, or to this degree.  Keep in mind what you love and appreciate.  Online or in person, emotions are high and they may well be touching upon some deeper pain.  Your relationships will still be there after the election. Agree to disagree and give each other a hug.