How Do I Help Friends in Politically Tense Relationships?

Hi there Ginzo!

Ever since the Trump elections, many relationships have been very strained. I don’t think it’s really a thing we’ve had to super seriously take into account; the opinion of the other on the presidency and the election. Tensions have been running extremely high among many friends, girlfriend/boyfriend, husband/wife, and many other interpersonal relationships after the most recent election. One thing I am struggling with has been how to help friends who are in relationships where their significant other disagrees with them politically and/or “morally.” How do I keep my own personal feelings out of how I approach those situations or is it better to be completely be upfront about them?

Sincerely,

Concerned Lady Friend

Dear Concerned Lady Friend,

You’re right that tensions are quite high right now, so I don’t blame you for being concerned. Anyone on social media can attest to this fact. When seeing America in a new light, naturally, you’re going to see some Americans in a new light, too. In some cases, this is an extremely unflattering light. Think the fluorescent lights in your high school gym that made your skin look green and blotchy. Personally, I have had to put up boundaries around the role these people play in my life. Now there are people who fall under the “will make pleasant small talk with you but will never discuss politics because I will never want to talk to you again” category or “will discuss politics with you but the minute I can tell you aren’t listening anymore I will leave the conversation” category. The best group to emerge out of this are the people in the “I can count on you to be there when I have deep fear/anger/anxiety/apprehension to ease the burden on my heart” category. Make a point to talk to this last group as often as possible to help you through the emotional work associated with the first two.

Now let me get to the heart of your question. Here’s the thing about giving relationship advice to other people: don’t. That is, unless very obviously explicitly asked. One of the most important pieces of advice my mom ever gave me was to not get too invested in other people’s relationships because they will rarely take your advice to heart. From an outside perspective, your suggestions may be the most logical and sound course of action, but logic doesn’t play a big part in relationships. Your friends may be distressed by this new political tension mixed into their romance, but try not to mix up the difference between someone asking for your opinion and just wanting to be heard. Stick to providing an empathetic ear and maybe talking more generally about your views when they come up until they ask specifically for your advice. It’s helpful to keep in mind that unsolicited advice rarely gets taken, so don’t waste your energy on composing the perfect speech to give about it until you are sure your friend really wants to hear it. A good mantra for you might be, “That’s not my problem.” Frankly, in this political climate, you have bigger fish to fry. Your friends will have to figure out how to cope with this tension themselves because in the end, they will listen to their own heart over your opinion any day.

I don’t think this means you need to censor your opinion when politics come up; for example, if you are spending time with one of these couples and the topic presents itself. In fact, unpacking your respective views could be an educational moment. Try your best to have a constructive conversation, meaning you actively listen instead of merely waiting to speak. If you feel emotional about it, that’s okay; people who say that they would have listened if you hadn’t gotten so “emotional” are people who were looking for reasons not to hear your opinion anyway. If these conversations are not getting anywhere and are draining you, there is nothing wrong with a strategic subject change. They may not lead anywhere, but expressing your view is often more gratifying than simply keeping your mouth shut. Of course, if through these conversations, you find that keeping your mouth shut is a better strategy for now, that’s okay, too.

And if your friend asks you point-blank what you would do if you were in her situation, you don’t need to hide what you feel (though if it is “I would dump that racist monster in 0.3 seconds,” you might want to soften that a bit). The important distinction here is that she asked. Our friends don’t need our judgment, but they deserve our honesty. Strive for nonjudgmental but truthful whenever your friend needs your advice and you are far more likely to get out of the conversation with their mind opened and your friendship intact. Just remember that at the end of the day, whether they listen to you or not, the bigger concern here is what you are doing for your own mental health in the face of tension. If you are behaving in a way that is respectful to your friends and your own needs, you can’t go wrong.

XOXO,
Ginzo

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