To this counselor, It didn’t look good. She was furious, felt betrayed, baffled, and confused. Who was this man she had married? How could he support a misogynistic, misguided, unhinged narcissist? How could she sleep in the same bed, eat at the same table, or share the same life together?

He was offended. Everyone has a right to believe what makes sense to them. It was all about the policies, not the person. Why was she making it personal? He had always been a conservative and she knew that; nothing had really changed for him. How could she threaten the marriage over politics? Why couldn’t she just accept that they were different politically and get on with life?

Our polarization is so profound that it can be difficult to stay in the same room with the “other view”. We are on a slippery slope to turning each other into an “it”. When we transform another human into an “it”, our negative actions toward the other: attacking, belittling, criticizing, stonewalling, humiliating, etc, begin to make sense. The way we make sense of this behavior is we start to believe the “other” is misguided, hardheaded, rigid, defensive or downright evil. With this logic, our actions seem to be justified.

The wreckage of politics can be weathered, relationships with our beloved can sustain a heavy blow…but, is there a way out? Can we respect ourselves and the “other” at the same time?

When your environment is very divided, it can be complicated to navigate relationally. Here are three ways to start.

  • Spend more time supporting your cause and less time trying to change your partner. You’ll make a bigger difference and cause less damage in your personal life. Become a positive inspiration for your ideas and positions. Political beliefs change often very slowly, if at all. Spend your time in an environment that has more payoff.
  • See your partner as an alien and get curious about the opposing view point. Really dig in; ask questions without counter attacking or arguing. See your beloved as interesting and fascinating that they could hold the views they do. Just listen for awhile. All your good arguments, and positions will still be there. Listening is not giving in or agreeing. It’s just one human respecting another. If you don’t get to this point, emotional distance and coldness are the predictable outcome.
  • Pour on appreciations for the beloved regarding your common ground; what you both believe, desire and hope for. Appreciations can soften positions. High positive regard for your partner has much more influence than all your great ideas and positions will ever have.

These 3 points are about managing polarization at home, not a political strategy. In the polarized world of bashing, criticizing, judging, and confronting, we can sustain our world view and the “rightness” of it. Intimate relationships are a different animal altogether and are best fueled with acceptance, respect, appreciation and the hard work of affirming difference within our relationships. So whether it’s politics, family, money, or whatever; the long term relationship requires managing difference. And this is the greatest challenge with those we love.

Next time we’ll be writing about the daunting task of coping with the world of multiple realities and the more than one “right” answer. More to come.

Bob Patterson

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