Not talking to your friend or family member anymore because of disagreements surrounding Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s campaigns? You are not alone. I was a guest recently on Airtalk with Larry Mantle, a National Public Radio Station-based show broadcast out of Los Angeles on KPCC where I was invited to talk about this issue. I had appeared a few months before talking about how to resolve difficulties with sibling relationships.
Callers and emailers provided a wealth of examples. A son-in-law told of being unfriended on Facebook by a father-in-law who did not want him to make comments on his page against his candidate. Another man recounted being shunned by his grand-father’s second wife because she disagreed with his choice of a candidate. A third example centered on a woman who was upset that her mother was supporting one of the candidates even though the candidate had a purported history in relation to sexual assault. (Please note that this has been ascribed to both of the two major party candidates.) The woman had been assaulted and felt her mother, by supporting the one of the candidates, was not being supportive of her traumatic experience. Friends here in Baltimore have reported to me their amazement that some of their friends are supporting a particular candidate and, as a result, are not sure they can keep them as friends.
Are political tensions higher than ever before? Many experts say yes due to how social media can ramp up emotions more quickly than other means of communication. But let us not forget recent history of rancorous elections that took place during the Civil Rights era and the Vietnam War, not to mention Bush v Gore which was left undecided for a month after the election. Many relationships do survive tumultuous times though it requires careful nurturing when emotions are in extremis and the stakes are so high. Here are some tips if you want to preserve the relationship:
Are you surprised that your friend/family member is voting for her/his candidate? Usually, though not always given the high unfavorable ratings of both candidates, the friend or family member’s candidate preference is part of a predictable pattern of behavior.Consider then why, at this time, it is so upsetting that this pattern is continuing.While the answer is often that these candidates’ behaviors are more extreme, remember that we often make accommodations to support our long held beliefs. We ignore aspects that might be distasteful.The perception that a candidate is a liar, cheat, danger (fill in the rest) may not shake us loose from our convictions if we find other aspects of our candidate that we like.For example, a position on abortion that we agree with may be more important than anything else a candidate does or says;
Can you put a boundary around the interactions you have with the family member or friend? Many families have members, an uncle or aunt perhaps, who they avoid talking to about politics.Friends can often agree to avoid certain topics when they communicate.In other words, don’t go there;
Do you want to engage in a sincere discussion with the person whose views you are unlikely to change? If so, active listening wherein you and he are not defensive and take an inquiring stance to learn each other’s thinking is more productive than arguing and holding on to assumptions about each other that may not be true;
Focus on what is working in the relationship with the friend or family member. Many relationships are a combination of affection, ambivalence, and ambiguity.We care about those we are close with but we may also hold mixed emotions for them sometimes and may not understand why they act the way they do. Do not expect any relationship to always be about agreement on the issues;and
Focus on what you have in common.If arguments are heated, it may be because you both care so much about the direction you see the country taking.You just disagree about how to get there.
Aristotle held that friendships are only maintained through effort. They must be nurtured and attended to. This is especially true in difficult times.