It seems like in 2020 it is more challenging than ever to keep politics out of our conversations with loved ones. From how we view the COVID-19 pandemic, our responses to social upheaval and protests, to how we voted, most of us have strong opinions that may be leading to disagreements at home.

In my practice, I am seeing more teens and young adults – who are at an age where they are developing beliefs independently – struggling in their relationships with parents and grandparents because they don’t see eye-to-eye politically. My clients are reporting increased tension at home and a loss of connection with their elders because of political arguments. They feel misunderstood and disappointed in their family members’ perceived view of the world.

While families have always experienced political divides, the heightened anxiety we have all been living with over the last nine months – since the arrival of coronavirus – is helping to trigger and exacerbate political arguments. In some cases, these are taking a real toll on relationships. 

I recently came across a quote from a family therapist in a news article about household tension during COVID that explains why some political discussions are turning toxic.

“It’s just so much more pronounced now because the climate for everybody is such an acute, pervasive level of anxiety,” said Helen Park of Manhattan’s Ackerman Institute for the Family. “That kicks up the sympathetic nervous system; the fight-or-flight fear responses are very much always on. That’s where you get problematic cycles of interactions, which are so difficult to interrupt if you’re in a heightened state.”

A “heightened state” leaves little room in interactions for compassion, patience or careful listening. But as we approach Thanksgiving, and potential discussions over the dinner table, there are strategies for navigating political differences with loved ones and keeping conversations amicable.

Tips On Handling Political Arguments

  1. Don’t try or expect to change another family member’s mind. It will just build resentment and frustration. Accept, from the start, that anyone who wants to engage on the topic, probably has fairly set beliefs.
  2. Watch your tone. Take a deep breath before you dive in and approach the conversation with kindness and respect. Keep your voice even and measured. Raising your voice during an argument is like pouring gasoline on a fire and only exacerbates the negativity. 
  3. Take the time to listen. It’s important to listen and try to understand where the other person is coming from. If you are busy shaping your response you are not really listening. If you consider the other person’s perspective and respond with empathy, it can go far to diffusing tension and making the other person feel validated.
  4. Assume best intentions. When discussions get heated and people get angry misunderstandings happen and people say things they don’t mean. Try to remember that your family members are good, caring people who may have valid reasons for their opinion, no matter what they say during political arguments.
  5. Know when to step away. If a conversation is getting too tense, step back. Continuing will likely just make you angrier. If you can’t keep your voice down and your tone civil, it’s time to stop. Politely, let the other person know that you’ve listened to what they’ve said and ease the focus of the conversation on to another subject.
  6. Remember that you love each other. Remind yourself that you love the people you disagree with. It’s easy to become derailed in a relationship when anger and resentments build. Just because family members have different political beliefs, they are not the enemy.
  7. Focus on what you have in common. Most families have shared histories, traditions and values. Instead of thinking about the differences, try to focus on things you can agree on.

Anxiety and fear frequently are at the root of the anger and upset people feel when discussing politics. If you think these feelings are becoming overwhelming or are disrupting family relationships, it may help to talk to a mental health professional.

Give me a call at (303) 542-0180 to find out more. 

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