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Relationships and Politics Pt. 2:Five Tips to Ensure They Last

by Jennifer Chappell Marsh, M.A., LMFT, published

Continued from Relationships and Politics Part One....

Politics and RelationshipsIt seems that something is making these cues that normally preserve civility ineffective, and there is more than one factor causing this phenomenon. First, a masking-effect is likely occurring. In effect, the cues we are usually attuned-to may be masked by a counteracting ‘noise’ from our political association. To better understand this effect, let’s start by considering how noise-cancelling headphones work. Such headphones have an external microphone that detects outside ambient noise. A micro-computer (chip) then analyzes the sound for its patterns. The chip then tells the speakers to produce sound waves opposite to the ambiance, with peaks to counter the valleys of the offending sound, and vice versa. Thus, there is a direct contradiction of the outside “noise.” Sonance is defeated by dissonance, resulting in silence where there was sound.

Our loved one’s complaints about our message and means of delivery, constant and clear though they may be, are the ambient noise of an election season. During elections, the personally appealing political statements we are bombarded by through the airwaves, in print, and in person, all work to counteract ambient warning sounds. The result is that the dull warning buzz of friction building elsewhere is drowned-out. In other words, the acceptance we receive from our political connections may act as a destructive interference to the more-or-less ambient sounds of protest.

The second factor affecting our attention to familiar social cues during an election season is in our intentional response. Not only do we not hear our loved ones’ complaints due to interference, but often we do not listen when we could. It has been said that the campaigning during an election season is “deafening.” I think it’s also dumbing. Like drunken sailors on shore leave, the intoxicating comfort of our associations allows us to blithely ignore the dangers around us. We become so enamored with ties to our chosen causes and political parties that our primary concern becomes that our side wins, not preserving loving relationships. We proceed carelessly with our arguments, unconcerned with the harm we cause.

It is far more damaging to break a bond than it is to never form one. As an example, consider receiving a piece of political mail from an opposing party. You may have a twinge of recoil, but it's usually no big deal. You simply throw the mailing away and move on with your day. Now, take that same mailing but imagine it’s printed in a chain-email, or a Facebook posting from your best friend or favorite aunt. Different story, right? The first example is where there is no bond to break and the second explores the strain that we experience from conflict with those to whom we have bonded.

How can we avoid being the 1 in 5 users who is blocked, hidden or "un-friended" over politics?

Once the political season has passed, so too passes the overwhelming support we once received from candidates and policies. When the campaigns have quieted, we are left with a void. Into this void appears the reality that we’ve grown apart from those we love and admire most. We begin to feel the distance in our relationships, loved ones we’ve alienated through our political fervor. We feel regret for our back-and-forth comments on Facebook.

The process to patch-up the gaps and re-build the interpersonal connections can be lugubrious. If you’re like me, you too will want to protect your relationships, avoid damage in the first place, and avoid the rebuild entirely. But is it even possible to protect our relationships during political season?

Here are some tips to keep your emotions at bay and relationships strong:

Use the tools offered by technology.

Social media offers us some protection from getting triggered. Rather than "unfriend" someone, you can choose to hide certain posts from your Facebook friends and then reset the filters after the election.

Be frank, be honest, and don't be afraid.

Be open with your feelings, not with your ideologies (at least, not before consent)! Let your loved-one know of your hesitation to talk about politics. Tell them directly that it is difficult to begin a dialogue because you are afraid that your views may not be heard or accepted. We can all benefit from exposure to different points-of-view, but if things become too hot or you are feeling scared or angry, it’s likely best to simply pull discussion of politics off the table.

Remember the relationship and always keep it in mind.

Focus on what you have in common, or how much you appreciate the unique personality they bring to your relationship. Spend time doing and discussing things that you share and can appreciate together. Go out somewhere that you share in common with them and do something cooperative together. Go golfing, bowling, or team-up for a trivia contest at your favorite bar, you’ll feel better for it.

Avoid making "ad hominem" attacks.

It sounds so formal, doesn’t it? But really it only means to argue the point, not the person. Remember, you may disagree on a point in discussion, and don’t forget that you can disagree on a point without attacking the person. If you can learn and remember this, a lot of pointless anguish can be avoided and valuable relationships preserved.

True persuasive power is not in how loud one shouts, but in how well one listens.

Never is the power of listening more important than when dealing with loved ones. When you take the time and patience to listen, you show respect and regard for your partner. You’ll get further with your point if you allow them to make theirs, and doing so will help you to feel closer, too. So, in the end, rather than moving apart, you can stay close to those you love even though your politics may remain miles apart.

It may be justifiable, maybe even justified, to hold political viewpoints and concerns primary, but it is damaging to relationships when they become our exclusive concerns. If the goal of our interactions with loved ones is to secure their “consent,” and not mere intellectual “consideration,” then we are almost always doomed to failure. What makes us different often brings us together, though we often forget this in light of politics. There is nothing like the political season to turn people who have no reason to be upset with each other into bitter and angry enemies.

So, the next time you see a posting status like “Obama is a Socialist!” or “Romney is a Liar!” take a deep breath and remind yourself of why you appreciate your friend or family member, send them this article, and take the high road by hiding their status before you respond in a way you may later regret.


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