Opinion: Don't Let Your Vote Affect Your Relationships

Tracy Stengel

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My friend, Kari, is already dreading the holidays. It’s not due to the stress of picking out the perfect gifts. It’s not the extra spending. It’s not even the 10 pounds she gains every year from eating fudge — her personal Kryptonite. Instead, it’s because of politics.

“It’s going to be a nightmare,” she groaned. “My dad believes the last presidential election was stolen and can’t get over it. My sister is pro-life, and my sister-in-law works at Planned Parenthood. Since retirement, Mom volunteers at the local shelter and my brother doesn’t believe anyone should get handouts. He thinks everyone struggling is on drugs and should just get a job. Every year, the bickering gets worse. I just can’t take it anymore.”

Kari isn’t alone. According to a recent Siena College-The New York Times poll, 19% of registered voters say the different views on politics have damaged their relationships with friends and family.

In an article in Psychology Today, Stephen J. Betchen, D.S.W., gives four pieces of advice to those who are trying to keep their loved ones close in these turbulent political times.

Calm Down

Everyone is entitled to an opinion and not everyone is going to agree. Keep your voice level and don’t get riled. Don’t attack someone’s character based on the way they vote. Avoid triggering words like ‘Snowflake’ and ‘Trumpkin.’ Don’t use trite phrases like, “Maybe you need to do some research!” This is a conversation you are having with someone important to you. Don’t let it mimic a bad comment section on social media.

Don’t Try to Hammer Home Your Point

You probably aren’t going to change anyone’s mind if they are firm in their beliefs. It’s may not be worth the effort to try. Betchen said, “Remember that when you are arguing with someone you are not simply challenging them on an issue; you are arguing with their history — the way they were raised, and their life experiences. Psychotherapists can attest to how hard it is to help someone to change, even when they are paying for it. What chance do you think you have?”

Embrace Your Differences

Try to learn from one another. Betchen said, “How can you grow if you simply surround yourself with people who think exactly like you do? Robert Pirsig wrote: He who has stringent values ceases to learn new facts. Also, difference can be the spice of life.”

Don’t Be in It to Win It

You don’t always have to be right. That will not make you a winner. Instead, it will alienate you from friends and family. That means everyone loses. Be fair and considerate. Agree to disagree and move onto a less inflammatory topic. It’s hard to enjoy a turkey dinner when someone is trying to shove their beliefs down your throat.

Conclusion

My friend, Kari, sums it up perfectly. “Why can’t people just be adults? We can be a table of professionals and once talk turns to politics, we turn into toddlers having a verbal food fight. The screaming. Temper tantrums. Clenched fists. And tears — sometimes there’s actual tears! If only my family could hear themselves. They’d never act that in public. Ever.”

Has politics damaged your relationships with friends or family? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Do you have any advice for others?

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Tracy explores the world with a positive eye, an open heart, and a sprinkling of humor. Without laughter, she would be lost.

Onsted, MI
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