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Politics and Relationships: How To Manage Our Differences

With the upcoming presidential election upon us, it seems appropriate to address the impact our political beliefs can have on our relationships.  Politics has always been known to be a “hot” topic and the majority of us have a tendency to avoid the topic all together with friends, family, or significant others who we know carry different beliefs and viewpoints than ourselves.  For those of us who are daring enough to breach the topic with other people, we may find that it can lead to disagreements, rifts, and negative feelings towards others if we don’t approach the topic in an effective manner.  Because politics is currently a relevant topic for the majority of Americans right now, we should hope to be able to openly share our ideas and carry conversations with those we are close with without it negatively impacting these relationships. So here are some do’s and don’ts that can be helpful in talking about politics with our loved ones:

DO:

1. Practice active listening.  This means that we are interested in what other people are sharing by           acknowledging and reflecting back to them that you hear and understand.  This does not mean         that by acknowledging you are agreeing with them; rather it sends the message that you are               open and inviting to what others are saying.
2. Ask open-ended and clarifying questions.  
3. Remember that political viewpoints are based on each individual’s interpretations of facts as well as         are closely connected to our sense of identify.
4. Practice respect and empathy. Try to put yourself in the other’s person’s shoes to gain a better               understanding of where they are coming from.
5. Agree to disagree.  This means we need to know when a conversation needs to end and                 remember that our relationships with our loved ones are more important than proving a point           or feeling the need to “win” a debate.
6. Highlight commonalities when possible.
7. Be aware of the goal of the conversation.

DON’T:

1. Engage in selective listening.  This type of listening and communication serves the purpose of               just looking for an opportunity to disagree and can be unproductive.
2. Tell others that their beliefs and viewpoints are wrong.  This approach rarely results in getting                 other people to change their minds and just breeds defensiveness and conflict.  
3. Impose your political beliefs onto others.  No one likes to be told what to do or how to think.
4. Take someone’s difference in beliefs and viewpoints personally.
5. Bring up politics solely to vent your frustration on a specific topic or issue.

Like any sensitive or important topic, we can learn to be mindful and take steps to be able to talk about it so that our relationships are not negatively impacted.  Following these steps can create opportunities for connection, growth, and education and can allow for enjoyable and rewarding conversations.


~ Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT