Dear Dr. Diana,
The dreaded political season is here. I put it that way because my husband and I get along well for the most part until politics are involved. It’s amazing that two people with such different opinions get on as well as we do. But things have been pretty heated around here and we are not handling it well. We both feel very strongly about the presidential candidates and the issues. To make things worse or better, depending on how you look at it, both of our adult children have developed their own strong opinions too. The tension and arguments is exhausting me. How can we bridge our differences or at least get along with our differences.
— Concerned Citizen
Sometimes, people argue because they don’t feel heard in the first place. You could be the first person to break the argument by being a good listener. Make sure that you have understood what the other person’s point is. You can check in to make sure that you know what is being said.
Rarely are things black and white. In an ideal scenario, we’d also listen to one another’s thoughts and facts before becoming glued to our own convictions.
That your family is so engaged and concerned about the best way to move forward in our society is a positive. As a family, you can choose to model mutual respect for freedom of thought and speech – it’s the American way.
Just as with any other type of disagreement, try and be respectful in your communication with each other. Even if you don’t respect one another’s views, you can still behave respectfully toward your spouse and children. Marriage doesn’t mean the end of individual thought. When you are especially frustrated and upset during your political arguments, remember your partner’s good points and try focusing on those. So, for example, if you are bemoaning what you feel is his lack of compassion for the have-nots, think about how he pulled himself up by his own bootstraps and earned every penny that he has now. Think about any other acts of generosity that you have witnessed him making toward others.
If you find that people in your family are not listening to one other and are focused merely on sharing their viewpoint (as is often the case in political discussions), you might consider being quiet and receptive rather than merely repeating what you’ve already said. That might shake things up and also put your relationships ahead of needing to be right.
All couples and families have disagreements sometimes. One of the keys to successful marriages is to accept influence from one another. If you and your husband and your children are going to continue to discuss your differences and conflicts in the political arena, try to model having an open mind. If people could try to listen and learn from each other’s various perspectives, without anger or blaming, we’d all be better off.
Diana Weiss-Wisdom, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in Rancho Santa Fe. Specializing in marriage counseling, stepfamilies, and marriage retreats.
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