Why Talking Politics With Oppositional Family Members Is A Bad Idea

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man and woman in a heated argument

In today's polarized political environment, most of us have family members whose politics are different from our own.

Political disagreements have led to fractured relationships nationwide, and talking politics is often a hard and frustrating situation.

So, is it a good idea to keep trying — especially since talking politics can leave emotions and tempers running high?

It can be frustrating when the people you care about have opinions that seem completely unreasonable.

Fortunately, there are ways to handle conversations and gatherings with family members whose opinions differ from yours.

These are methods that can help you avoid nasty arguments and leave you feeling satisfied with how you handled things.

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Here are 4 healthy ways you can broach talking politics with oppositional family members even though it's a bad idea.

1. Maintain respect, even when you disagree.

Yes, politics are important. But relationships are important, too.

You don't need to agree with family members in order to be an important part of each others' lives.

Sometimes, it's easy to believe that certain viewpoints are inherently offensive or ignorant and must be addressed.

However, it's possible to disagree with someone's political opinion and also respect their right to see things the way they do — no matter how wrong you think they are.

You want that respect from them, so it's only right to give them that same respect.

2. Work on your ability to accept things beyond your control.

In the Serenity Prayer, you ask for help accepting the things you can't change. Tolerating things you wish were different is a skill.

It's not easy, but we all have to do it sometimes. As with most skills, you get better at it the more you practice.

Tolerating disagreeable opinions from others can be a great opportunity to practice building this skill. In that way, you can turn what would have been an uncomfortable family dinner into your personal self-improvement project.

How can you put this into action?

When someone shares a political opinion you disagree with, instead of reacting verbally, examine your state of mind.

What are your thoughts at that moment? What emotions come up?

Does what you've heard feel threatening? If so, what exactly is threatened?

Shifting your attention in this way can prevent your emotions from driving your response.

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3. Know your goals and keep your eyes on the prize.

A helpful rule of relationship management is this: For potentially contentious interactions, know your goals before you begin.

When it comes to spending time with family, your goal is probably to enjoy each other's company (as much as you can) and to maintain your relationship with them.

Will talking politics facilitate either of those goals? If not, keep your primary goal for the interaction in mind before and during your time with family members.

4. Be realistic in your expectations.

Usually, when people argue about politics, each is trying to convince the other "I'm right."

So, before getting into politics with a family member who disagrees with you, ask yourself: "What are the odds I'll convince them that I'm right?"

If you're honest with yourself, most often, the odds are close to zero. Given that, what's the point of arguing?

Again, this perspective is helpful if you're able to keep it in mind before and during your time with someone whose politics are different than yours.

These principles and strategies can be very effective if your goal is to enjoy your family, to gain more peace of mind, and spend less time feeling angry.

Spending time with family members you disagree with politically doesn't have to be a problem!

Remember, you're not getting together in order to come to a consensus about national policy issues. Family is a limited resource — choose your topics of conversation wisely when you're together.

If talking politics is a bad idea, especially in situations where there may be further confrontation over what defines talking politics versus people's morals and rights, then make the decision to abstain.

You can do it, and you'll be glad you did.

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Paul Greene, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and the director of the Manhattan Center for Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy.