Here is November’s installment of “Ask Shelby” from Chester County’s own Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Shelby Riley.
I’m dreading Thanksgiving because of the election results. I know half of my friends and family voted differently than I did, and I don’t want to argue while we’re together, but I also don’t want to simply ignore that we have such different priorities for this country. How can we talk without fighting?
Signed, Exhausted by the Election
This election has been one of the most divisive elections in our recent history. I think we all have people close to us who voted differently, and it can be incredibly difficult to talk when our feelings are so intense.
I encourage you to go into the holiday gatherings with the primary goal of loving and enjoying your friends and family. There will be many other opportunities for discussions about the election, and if the Thanksgiving table isn’t a natural place for these conversations to happen, choose to focus on the commonalities you still have and the reasons why you love the people you’re with.
If there is a safe opportunity for a discussion, I recommend you talk with people one on one, as big group discussions often engender a lot of passion and reactivity. Enter the conversation with the goal of listening. Try to remain open and curious with the goal of learning about your loved one’s views, concerns, and hopes. Think about being a reporter, gathering facts for a neutral, fact-based story. Your goal is to help make the other person feel comfortable and respected so they can share their thoughts and feelings and you can hear them. Don’t argue, don’t try and convince them they are wrong, and don’t express judgement about their opinions. You can ask clarifying questions, but make sure they are curious and not judgmental.
Curious: How did you factor in your candidate’s questionable behavior into your decision?
Judgmental: How could you vote for someone so despicable?
I spoke with some Chester County Moms about their choice of candidate. You might hear:
“I voted for Trump because of the issues of foreign policy and our economy. I am not pro-war but feel a strong military will keep enemies in check and the past 8 years has proven we have lost respect from the world. Regarding the economy, I don’t feel the last administration’s policies have worked and so a change is needed.”
“I voted for Hillary because I agree with her policies and feel that it is a step in the right direction for our country. Raising the minimum wage, gun control, equal pay for women, the environment and supporting the climate change agreement are all very important to me and she is an advocate of all of these issues.
“I voted for Trump because I trust him more than I do Hillary. I couldn’t get past her illegal actions.”
“I voted for Hillary because Trump is a racist, a misogynist, and has threatened to persecute people based on their ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation. I cannot stand for that.”
Be prepared that some of the statements people make will raise your hackles. Now is not the time to confront or try and persuade. Your conversation at the holidays is about understanding your loved one more. Take a deep breath, remember your mission and echo back what you heard them say: “So foreign policy is really important to you. What are your hopes for our country around foreign policy moving forward?” “So it sounds like gun control is important to you. What changes would you like to see in that area?” “It sounds like you believe Hillary is guilty of significant crimes. What do you think should happen to her around the illegal actions you mentioned?” “I can tell you are very worried about Trump. What are your fears about his racist remarks?” Stating that you understand their position does not in any way mean that you agree with them. It means you care enough to hear them out.
Don’t chime in about your views unless they ask. Again, remember that there will be many other opportunities to share your views. If they don’t ask, they might not be in a place to have a loving, curious conversation, and offering unsolicited thoughts may be an invitation to an argument. I know it only seems fair to have a balanced conversation, but life isn’t fair, and you are on a mission of love, respect, and connection. Be big enough to let go of your need to be heard for now. If they do ask, state a few of your most important sentiments in non-inflammatory language. Resist the urge to talk at length. Try and keep the conversation to a maximum of 20 minutes (unless it’s the most loving, life-changing conversation for both of you ever, then feel free to keep at it.) End the conversation with a thank you. “Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me, now let’s go see what Aunt Mildred is doing with that giant ball of yarn.”
You might hear things that help you respect someone more, and you might hear things that make you respect someone less. Give yourself at least a week to process what you heard before making any decisions about setting new boundaries with friends or family. And know that it’s okay to have more discussions where you share more of your views in the future. Relationships can be hard work, but they’re worth the effort!
Shelby Riley, LMFT is the owner of Shelby Riley, LMFT and Associates, LLC, a group family therapy practice in Chester Springs. She is the Past President of the Pennsylvania Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (PAMFT). Remember to check out Shelby’s website www.shelbyrileymft.com for useful information about therapy for individuals, couples, and families. And check out her books on Amazon.