This year has been one for the record books and has brought with it many hardships. There will be at least one more historic event in 2020, taking place on the first Tuesday of November. While there is usually anxiety on both sides in anticipation of Election Day, emotions are running particularly high this year. An unfortunate consequence of this can be conflict in relationships with friends or family. How you navigate politics and family conflict in the election season can make all the difference in the world.
Is Avoidance the Answer when it comes to political conflict?
Considering the particularly hostile tone of our current election season, the risk for conflict may be high for some families. One way to navigate this risk may be to avoid the confrontation all together.
Even if you generally enjoy the company of your family, you may still find yourself dreading visits with family members with differing political views. Or, you may have memories of less volatile political seasons in which arguments escalated or feelings were hurt. In such cases, it may be wise for family members to give themselves permission to “sit this one out.”
With the people I work with, I often emphasize that they are the best judge of their own limits. If they feel the risks of attending a family get together are too high, the best option may be to politely excuse themselves. Cancelling plans in order to avoid the possibility of politics causing a family conflict is perfectly ok.
If you have considered backing out of or avoiding making plans, you may be experiencing some guilt over your decision. However, you do not need to feel guilty at all. Cancelling or postponing plans, as a result of current global stressors, is perfectly reasonable. The coronavirus, derecho, and economic uncertainty have compounded stress to a point where taking a break may be required. Putting off plans to spend time with family members that you anticipate having conflict with may ultimately have a positive impact on your relationships with them.
Communication is the key to overcoming Politics and Family Conflict
Avoidance is one way to reduce conflict related to political stress in a divided family. Another way is to consider HOW you are communicating about the topic. Most people, regardless of their political ideology, want to be understood and validated. If they feel they are not being understood or their views are seen as invalid, they may become defensive and angry.
People tend to get particularly defensive when they feel outnumbered by those who do not share their view. In order to have a successful conversation, don’t go into it trying to change anyone’s mind. Rather, make it your goal to understand their view. “Help me understand your beliefs,” is a statement you could try. This might help the other person open up and realize they are not being attacked.
What if the Conflict is with my partner?
While avoidance might help with some political conflicts, communication is critical for romantic partners. When thinking about couples, it’s easy to imagine arguing over needs and wants. One partner wants to be heard and valued for what they say. The other wants to have their efforts appreciated and seen for the contributions they make to the relationship.
Overall, couples tend to argue or fight in order to find balance and connection. However, when it comes to politics, couples face a different, but powerful battlefield within their conflict.
A familiar scene for couples and political conflict is one partner or spouse states that the other does not understand their values as they relate to their political affiliation. The spouse or partner replies that they cannot abandon their convictions and respect for their own political perspectives just to make their partner happy.
The couple spins round and round until both feel as though they have a political opponent in the house or they don’t know the person that is sharing back at them. It’s a cycle of disgust, disrespect, and disconnection. This is where couples miss out on a powerful moment of change in the relationship.
Let’s talk about that for a minute. Does the partner want a “win” for their political beliefs or do they want to “win” the person standing in front of them? What brought them together to begin with? Love IS stronger than politics.
Why are they together?
The couple above has stated their thoughts ands and beliefs related to political topics. But, those thoughts do not typically represent everything about their relationship or how it got started.
Maybe the couple originally met in their favorite coffee shop and enjoyed music offered there. The couple could have also met at work in a tough office setting that urged them to be close and support one another building a friend and a romance that the movies produce.
Regardless of how they started, they didn’t start the relationship so that they could argue and hurt one another’s feelings about political differences. They started that relationship because the other person mattered more than what was around them.
What is the foundation for their beliefs?
Another compelling reason is that politics may continue in a number of different forms, but the relationship represents something more solidified and common between the two partners.
The couple represents a unification of two separate worlds (two parenting experiences, two sets of growing up experiences, etc.). Their connection is something politics dreams of having in its own arena. It shouldn’t come as a shock that two unique people have unique thoughts — and that doesn’t make either one “wrong.”
A romantic relationship is the building block for a family and then a piece of a community that creates politics. At its core, a relationship should be viewed as more powerful than a political belief fighting for recognition or respect.
Who is this person?
Finally, the last piece to remember is that ideas represent parts of people not the whole person. The couple is together because of the dynamics, connection, and support that their partner provides.
The couple may have conflicting and opposite ideas about their political worlds; however, their ideas should be viewed as having space to exist within the relationship, not in spite of the relationship. “Winning” the relationship saves space for the political belief. On the other hand, “winning” the political belief does not save space for the relationship.
Please note, the reasons for cheering for the relationship more than the political belief are not excuses to tolerate violence or intimate partner abuse. Nor does it make manipulation of a partner ‘ok.’ Power and control within a relationship can be complex. If you feel that you are in an unhealthy, power-driven relationship that threatens your well-being, please contact us for help and support. If you are in a dangerous situation, call 911 or contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
Take a Deep Breath!
Regardless of political views, this has been an unusually stressful year. Having a strong support system and being able to reach out for help when you need it are more important than ever in order to maintain your mental health. Coming together and working as a team with loved ones and/or a trusted provider can make navigating politics and family conflict a little easier.