When Someone You Love Has Awful Politics

As a therapist
I’ve seen eyes roll.
Arms crossed.
Personal attacks.
Paint-melting rage.
I’ve even seen a checkbook thrown across the room.

And none of this compares to what I have seen this election season.

I would normally add evidence here, but do I really need to? It’s in your newsfeed and at your dinner table too.

This isn’t a post about how to save this country. That’s above my pay grade.

But this is a post about how to save your relationship with the people you love who are on the other side of the aisle. Because despite all the fear you have right now this election season will pass. Time will march on and you will find yourself across the table from them once more. Whether you can meet their eye depends a great deal on what happens now, when it’s hardest.

So as someone who has sat in her fair share of hot exchanges, and even volunteered to professionally enter the fray, I have a few suggestions.

1. Rewind The Footage.

Sure, right now they are glaring. Their eyes are bulging. They have just said something unthinkable. You are flabbergasted. You are questioning who this person even is. How could they be so stupid/cruel/ignorant/naive/self-righteous/hateful?

Look right into their eyes. Rewind the video. Rewind it as far back as you need to. Maybe it is a year ago. Maybe it is decades. Rewind it back to the last moment with them where you felt connected. Rewind it to the last moment when you felt love from them. Take a snapshot.

Now overlay that image with the one in front of you. They are still in there, somewhere

2. Listen First.

A basic rule of couple’s therapy is “active listening”. This means you start by listening to your partner. You listen first. You listen ALL THE WAY. You do not mount your defense. You do not load your weapon. You do not interrupt. You do not correct. You listen all.the.way. 

All the way. No cheating.

And then (here is the hard part) you reflect. You use neutral and open-hearted language to reflect what you heard. You do this to demonstrate to the offended party that they do not need to repeat themselves, or yell louder, or railroad, because they have been heard.

I would say this immediately halts the hostility 75% of the time. Watch how quickly the red drains from someone’s face as soon as they have been accurately reflected. We all want to be heard. Even if we're wrong.

3. Speak To Common Ground.

Oh, I can hear you now. "There is no common ground Krysta! That is the problem." But if you were in my office I would press you and say “Keep digging”. It’s there. It is always there. Or you would never love this person in the first place. It’s generally hiding underneath the content.

Here is a hint: the common ground is almost always rooted in love. Somewhere, in the depths of yourselves, you love the same thing. If you cannot find love in another person- start with what they fear. What we fear is almost always a shadow of what we love.

Most arguments are around the disagreed-upon solutions. We don’t believe the same actions will work out the same way. But at the end of the day we want ourselves and the people we love to be safe and happy. That’s it. As soon as we can see that in each other- we have a shot at re-connecting.

4. Give Up On Agreeing

Where people get hung up is that they insist on agreement before they will stop fighting. The brutal truth is- full agreement is rarely found. If we set agreement as the end goal, the fighting will never end and we will never re-connect. It is a setup for broken love.

Instead, set your sights on something attainable. Try aiming for: respect, consideration, understanding, or compromise. This means we have gone from “winner-take-all” to “there is no winner”. That’s not something everyone wants to hear. But it is the beautiful and terrible territory of relatedness.

Listen, I know this list isn't for everyone. Waging love is a hard proposition, especially in times like these. Our eyes and ears are constantly assaulted with division. It has crept into our lives and homes.

But... if you (like me) happen to love someone who sits across the aisle from you. Maybe (just maybe) you can find it inside yourself to reach your hand.

And in so doing, maybe (just maybe) you'll end up healing our country after all.

Love is the only thing that has ever changed anyone's mind.


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