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When Politics Divide Relationships

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When Politics Divide Relationships

The 2016 presidential election was historic in many different ways, and a decision of this outcome has left many relationships strained, perhaps even damaged. Modern politics can be much more damaging and invasive, particularly in the age of “fake news” and social media. Because of that, it’s easy to create your own echo chamber that solidifies your own personal beliefs while leaving you closed off to other opinions.

So what do you do when that divide invades your relationship?

When two dissenting views clash without any doors cracked open for outside perspectives, people can take it personally, and it can trickle down into other areas of the relationship.

Assess the Damage

With the election over, it’s time to assess the damage and consider where you may have caused harm in your relationship:

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Disrespect: Did you ever talk to your partner in a disrespectful way? This includes shouting, interrupting, or deflecting/blaming rather than actually listening to their point of view.

Minimizing: Did you ever minimize your partner’s opinion by refuting it through emotion? This is different than debating with facts; in these instances, you’re dismissing a point of view simply because of the subject matter.

Accusations by proxy: Did you ever accuse your partner of being prejudiced in a certain way because of their candidate’s’ perspective? The “Blame Game” immediately puts people on the defensive, and loading up accusations rather than discussing the issues rationally.

Ganging up: Did you ever call out your partner among like-minded friends or family to put them in an awkward situation? This creates an us vs. them mentality that only widens gaps between people.

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Healing Wounds

The first step in healing wounds caused by the election is to look at the points above and consider which ones you may have inflicted upon your partner. The second step is to apologize — and really apologize, not a mere “I’m sorry” but a thorough apology that acknowledges what you did wrong, why it hurt them, what you’d like to change, and if you can have their forgiveness.

Emotions are still running high from this election. The days following the election have shown us that, from media coverage to social media discussions to petitions circulating the Internet. At some point, you’ll probably want to hear your partner out as a means to take the final healing step. This may or may not be the right time to do it. The best way to assess that is to ask your partner if they’d like to talk about it.

Further Discussion

This election highlighted many issues, from social/cultural to economic to foreign policy. Just because the election is over doesn’t mean that the discussion will stop. In fact, given the reaction to the outcome and the overall inflammatory nature of the campaign, chances are the main players and primary issues will continue to be in the spotlight until at least the mid-term elections, and at that point, things will begin pointing to the 2020 campaign.

In short, this will probably come up again between you and your partner. So how can you have an open and constructive talk without descending into division? Consider the following steps to a healthy discussion:

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1) Stay respectful: Never raise your voice, call names (to your partner or your partner’s views), mock, or interrupt.

2) Ask for facts: If your partner cites something that doesn’t sit right, don’t immediately demean it. Instead, cite facts. Tangential to this, there has been much discussion lately about how social media puts a spotlight on clickbait and “fake news”/propaganda. A suggested bonding experience is both sides as a couple researching “fake news” and how to better get facts into the discussion.

3) Keep an open mind: Everyone has an opinion. However, while a two-party system often creates a presentation of binary thinking, the truth is that social and economic situations are infinitely more complex. Don’t just listen to your partner, consider what they’re saying. Even if you disagree with them, search for the one or two elements that you do agree with and start by discussing that.

4) Present your point of view with empathy: Saying that rust-belt workers are hurting or that women face everyday misogyny might be accurate but it’s a clinical description. Instead of presenting it that way, try explaining the person behind the statement. What is at stake when rust-belt workers can’t find jobs? How do women feel when casual misogyny impacts their everyday lives? By putting your partner in the shoes of these examples, it becomes much easier to see.

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Remember, you’re in a relationship because of love, not division. A healthy discussion over differing opinions is good in any relationship. However, if this divide has grown too wide because of politics, please contact a licensed marriage counselor to discuss it — there may be underlying issues causing your relationship to fracture.

Featured photo credit: Nick Fuentes via flickr.com

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When Politics Divide Relationships
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