It was hour 7 in the car and my husband and I were an hour away from arriving at my parent’s house for a weekend visit. We were tired. It was raining. Construction zones seemed endless.
And it happened.
I don’t remember which one of us brought it up, or why, but the last hour of our ride was spent negotiating flaring tempers related to our political passions, which happen to be on opposite sides of the party lines.
And it wasn’t pretty.
The energy in our Rav4 shifted from a fun, light hearted country music sing along, to a heated debate gone terribly wrong.
As we pulled into the driveway neither of us could get out of the car fast enough. As we walked into the house we flashed one last glare and eye roll at one another before slapping on smiles and greeting my family.
With the election right around the corner, I know many of my friends have struggled with similar situations. Politics can bring out the fundamental differences or similarities in us. It’s difficult to remain level-headed when talking about topics that you hold close to your heart and values that you feel convicted in.
Instead of allowing conversations plummet into a downward spiral that results in questioning your partner’s moral character, consider ways the pre-empt these discussions and strategies to keep your relationship healthy and balanced.
Show some respect
Take a minute to think about how you like to be treated, listened to and responded to throughout a conversation. Are you embodying that same sentiment in the way you are communicating? If not, take a deep breath and change your course.
Remember that you will never agree on everything
Conflict is a necessary and healthy part of every relationship. Despite disagreeing on certain issues, you can always find some common ground. Instead of solely focusing on what you disagree on, shift your focus to what you can agree on. To take it a step further, do some research/reading on your partner’s convictions and see how you can understand where they are coming from.
Understand how you communicate
Relationship experts, John and Julie Gottman, warn to look out for criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling and contempt when communicating. These four styles of communicating are destructive and can harm your relationship. While engaging in political discussions (or any discussion for that matter), notice if you or your partner are falling into these patterns. And if you are, try the following:
- Communicate your feelings (when you said “x” I felt “y”).
- Let your partner know what makes sense to you about what they are saying.
- Shift the conversation to what you appreciate about your partner in relation to what they believe in. Practice holding your partner in a positive light throughout difficult conversations.
- Take a deep breath and keep a level head. Defensiveness will only escalate things.
- Repair any hurtful comments that went down throughout the conversation. It’s easy to sweep these things under the rug, but without repair, the wounds are still there.
- Discuss how, as a team, you can respect one another’s boundaries and communicate in a productive, respectful way.
Know when to take a break
Call a time-out if it seems like you are spinning your wheels and things are escalating to the point of no return. Pushing one another to your breaking point is no fun and only leads to resentment (glares and eye rolls) in the long run.
Remember why you’re in a relationship
There is more to your partner than their political beliefs. Call to mind the way they make you feel, when and how you feel most connected and what brought you together and keeps you together.
Prioritize relationship-centered care
As the election rapidly approaches you will be bombarded with the media talking politics. Take time to shut the computer, put the phone down and turn off the television. Spend time refueling your relationship on how you connect most and engage in conversations that aren’t politically influenced. This will help you remain passionate about the person you are in a relationship with, not just the political agenda that they agree with.
As for my husband and I, we had an 8 hour drive to rehash our political downward spiral as we drove home a couple of days later. And we put these points into practice, ultimately feeling better about one another’s political positions, setting up boundaries around these types of conversations for the future and each of us taking responsibility for any hurt feelings that may come from our heated convo.
Always learning, am I right?!
What about you? How have you fared when navigating these tough conversations? Is there opportunity for improvement in the way you communicate? Shoot me an email, I’d love to hear from you!