So you’ve survived Thanksgiving dinner and your family is still intact. Or maybe it isn’t. Either way, it’s difficult to navigate social situations when friends and family have opposite political affiliations. Studies show people not only disagree, sometimes unpleasantly, but also discriminate against those whose party affiliations oppose their own. You are bound to encounter family and friends with conflicting views during the upcoming holidays. So what can you do to keep the peace?
Just say no. The easiest way to remain friends is just don’t talk about it. There are plenty of other subjects—movies, sports, books, art. But even that isn’t easy because so many subjects have become politically charged. You can’t even talk about the weather, which used to be a totally innocuous topic, without it becoming a battle about climate change. Still, if you’re determined to avoid politics, you can do it. Yet, it seems a shame not to understand another’s point of view for fear of the rancor it might produce.
Admit your differences up front. Let your friend know that you acknowledge the deep divide between you, but there must be some common ground somewhere, otherwise you wouldn’t be friends. Research shows that most people have views that belong in both liberal and conservative camps. They might be against abortion, for example, but for universal health care, two concepts typically assigned to opposing parties. You will never know how your friends feel, and in what areas you can agree, unless you explore ideas with them.
Remain calm. The trouble is, exploring opposing ideas can lead to some heated vitriol that could damage your relationship. When someone insults your political sensibilities, it’s natural to want to return the insult with even more fervor. Try to resist getting caught up in the heat of the moment. Point out that you disagree but you don’t want these differences to come between you. Or that you feel unwelcome or uncomfortable when your friend makes such comments.
Don’t try to change them. You’re not going to change yourself, are you? You’re not going to suddenly believe the opposite of what you now believe because your friend has delivered a screed that magically enlightens you. Probably not. But do keep your mind open. They may have something you ought to consider. But don’t expect them to be equally open-minded. You have friends with different viewpoints because they enrich your life. Because you need to understand other ideas, and your friends can help you see a larger picture. You can do the same for them.
Know when to fold ’em. Know when to walk away when the friendship is no longer worth maintaining. Sometimes the differences and the vitriol cut too deep and your friend no longer nourishes you in any way. In fact, you feel wounded and depleted after encountering him. Perhaps that’s when you should keep your distance, if only temporarily. Maybe you can renew your friendship when the political climate settles down. Meanwhile, protect yourself and your well-being and stay away if friendships become toxic.
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: http://www.nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact.
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