A Way to Protect Your Relationships from Political (and Other) Arguments

Comments 33
couple arguing
(Image/A Conscious Rethink)

Donald Trump is President of the United States in 2019.

Even for non-Americans, that fact can elicit radically different reactions.

In the United States, these opposing, often intense, emotional reactions will poison the Thanksgiving dinner conversations of many family gatherings next month. These conversations will make friends, neighbors, and co-workers angry with each other as we head toward the 2020 presidential election.

And these differences will sometimes cause division between two people who vowed to love and support each other for the rest of their lives. People who share homes, children, bank accounts, and many years of memories.

A reader sent me the following entertaining email, asking me to write about how to prevent political arguments from ruining their marriage:

I’m trying to understand how two people who have been together for 20 years, seemingly very much in love, can communicate with each other with regards to their opinions on political and world affairs.

Example. Taken from a real situation. Summed up:

Spouse brings up any topic in the news (mainstream or otherwise). The other spouse makes a comment on it that the first spouse doesn’t agree with. First spouse flips out. Of course, we’re talking about the politics of today where one person practically thinks [Donald Trump] is the Saviour, while the other one thinks he’s a con artist. One spouse believes in all the conspiracy theories and AJ videos as the be all and end all fact, while the other tries to listen with an open mind until the name calling starts. The latter spouse flips out despite trying not to, then tries to end the conversation because of tensions rising, which then turns into a yelling match between the two. One feels insulted by the hurled adjectives and names called, the other thinks their spouse needs to grow a pair and stop overeating. Feelings get hurt. Things get thrown around. Doors get slammed. People get ignored. Sleep is restless. The next few days are awkward. Finally one spouse apologizes, the other eventually forgives. One spouse says to the other that they are communicating in an overly confrontational manner, the other retorts that the other is being oversensitive. The situation repeats time and time again.


Weirdly, oddly enough, they can also be a very good team, where they talk to each other respectfully and clearly while working on a building/renovation project! I know… renos are usually the killers, but not with this couple.

So can you write something on how to constructively argue, even when there’s no chance they’ll agree on anything, or only on little? In a way that won’t destroy their marriage? Is it even possible?

The Art of Peaceful Relationship-Building Conversation

When I think about how I approach the art of conversation, I think of it in two parts:

  • Mindset
  • Technique

This is just what works for me. I’m not going to pretend to understand how much of this is applicable to others, given that everyone has different personalities, beliefs, life experiences, unique emotional make-ups, etc.

Mindset #1 – Respect for Others

First and foremost, if I’m having a conversation with the potential for emotional volatility, then it means I’m probably talking to someone I know pretty well. I don’t often engage in emotionally charged conversations with strangers, but even when I do, I treat them the same.

The No. 1 most-important thing I do to succeed at having peaceful, productive conversations is that I value my relationship with the person I’m talking to more than I value trying to “win” a conversation with them.

If you respect your own beliefs and the image of your moral/intellectual superiority more than you value other people, then you are probably going to have a lot of conflict in your conversations and relationships. I used to believe everything I thought and felt was super-legit, which meant anyone opposing any of my super-legit thoughts and feelings must be wrong. That made me kind-of an asshole, and is ultimately the root cause of my divorce.

Mindset #2 – Humility and Curiosity

I’ve been wrong about so many things in my 40 years, that it’s not all that hard to consider that I might have something to learn from someone else.

EVEN IF they don’t have anything to teach me about the subject matter we’re discussing, it’s still an opportunity for me to leverage curiosity to better understand THEM.

In the context of our romantic relationships and closest interpersonal relationships, demonstrating authentic curiosity about what they believe, what they feel, and why, will almost always increase the connection between the two of you rather than move you further apart.

Mindset #3 – Mutually Arrive at Truth

In the event of a disagreement, instead of two people flexing their imagined superiority over one another, what if both people always worked cooperatively to mutually arrive at truth together?

In instances where things can be proven or tested, why not work together to prove or test ideas? Let the truth win.

And where there is no objective truth, it’s an opportunity to understand how another person can look at the same situation as you and come to a different conclusion. Idea and belief diversity is GOOD. If something you believe is true can’t hold up to honest scrutiny, then—maybe it’s not actually true and it’s time to consider a better belief?

Mindset #4 – If You Were Me, and I Was You, and We Were Them

I used to think the things I believed strongly were conclusions I came to thoughtfully and sensibly, which put me in a perma-mindset to shut myself off from opposing viewpoints.

Which is super-ignorant and bullshitty.

Choose any person in the world. There are more than 7 billion of them. And then go through the following thought exercise asking:

  • What if I was born to their parents?
  • What if I grew up in the same town, at the same time, around the same people, doing the same things, and being taught all of the same stuff?
  • If instead of being born into my life, I was born into theirs, wouldn’t I believe all of the same things they do? Wouldn’t I be saying and doing all of the same things they are?
  • In light of that truth, doesn’t acting like all of my shit is better than everyone else’s shit make me a huge dumbass who no emotionally healthy person should want to be around?

You disagree with other people who practice different religions, who vote for different politicians, and who like different kinds of music than you. Sometimes those are strangers.

Sometimes it’s the person you chose to love and honor all the days of your life.

You might think this is extreme, but I don’t (and my opinions are awesome!):

Taken to its logical conclusion, there are only two ways to approach the idea of people believing different things, some of which oppose the beliefs of others.

  1. A group of people who believe the same stuff bands together, convinces a bunch of other people to join them, and then proceeds to eliminate all of the people who oppose their beliefs through violence, slavery, imprisonment, or oppressive laws. The groups willing to go furthest in their quest for imperialistic dominance over the rest of the world get to make the most rules.
  2. We all agree that people are going to believe different things—and that it totally makes sense for them to—and then we all choose to not be insufferable cocks about it.


If you and I are having a potentially sensitive conversation, I’m going to prioritize you knowing that I care infinitely more about you, my friend, than I care about convincing you that things I believe are somehow better than things you believe.

My goals are two-fold:

  1. To understand what you think and feel—and WHY—because understanding that stuff will undoubtedly give me important context that explains how you came to believe something different than I do. Knowing that will make me smarter and wiser, and allow me to know you better.
  2. To explain what I believe—and WHY—because I’m always confident that I can tell the story of my beliefs in ways that another person can understand. I don’t require that person’s agreement. But I do crave that person’s understanding, and it’s my job to help them understand how or why I might believe something in opposition of something they believe.

Because those are my goals, I don’t use words nor tones of voice that indicate I think they’re pond scum with moronic opinions or that I’m some brilliant idea master who has life all figured out.

I am constantly reassuring throughout a potentially divisive conversation that I’m not arguing against the other person or claiming I know best.

I’m simply trying to effectively explain what I believe and why, trusting that people will sometimes agree with my conclusions. At minimum, they will understand how I arrived at them.

Things get more complicated surrounding topics like religion and politics, which is why they’ve not been considered polite dinner conversation for the entirety of my life.

Religion is a super-belief.

If someone believes in an all-powerful creator, and that there is an ETERNAL afterlife waiting for all of us, and that doing/believing good or correct things will get you to the good place to spend eternity, and that doing/believing bad or incorrect things will result in you being damned to an eternity of painful terror and punishment, then I think it’s sensible for that person to freak the eff out whenever societal conditions threaten the eternal salvation prospects for them and their children.

If you believed unconditionally that certain activities would cause your kids to spend eternity (really think about what that word means) under unimaginably horrible circumstances—then maybe you’d flip shit over things their teachers were teaching them, or about things they see and hear on TV or social media too.

If you spent your entire life being name-called, shunned, judged, mocked, and being told that God HATES you because of who you love and feel naturally attracted to by certain religious groups, maybe it would be really easy to question the goodness of such a group. Maybe it would be really easy to reject ideas they were trying to get everyone to believe, since people who believe those things hurt you, and have always hurt you.

And so we must choose: people or beliefs?

In a life that’s taught me the undeniable value of human connection, I have chosen to value my connections with people over my personal beliefs.

I’ve yet to see that strategy yield poor results.

In the end, some people are going to think Donald Trump is awesome, and some people are going to think he’s a massive d-bag. Others may think he sucks big-time, but still believe he’s the best option for president. And others still may think he’s a rad dude, but that there are better candidates to serve as the U.S. president.

These debates will take place at kitchen tables, on 24/7 cable news shows, around office water coolers, in internet forums, and in a bunch of other places.

When we find ourselves near or involved in one, we can choose to care more about our beliefs, or we can choose to care more about the people with whom we’re discussing those beliefs.

One way breeds conflict and broken relationships. In marriage, it breeds resentment and contributes to divorce.

The other way cultivates peace and brings people closer together. In marriage, it brings couples together and fortifies the love and respect two people have and feel for one another.

Good news—you’re free to choose whichever way you want.

33 thoughts on “A Way to Protect Your Relationships from Political (and Other) Arguments”

  1. Very cool, Matt! Do you ever read Danny Silk,” Keep You love on,” and many other books? He stresses that the goal of relationships is understanding, not agreement. Our job is to protect connection, to create intimacy.

    In the modern culture what we’re seeing so much of is attempts to build connection, relationship, and intimacy around shared outrage, offense, and enforced agreement. That just creates shallow relationships, deep divisions, and resentment.

    1. I have not. But it/he sounds like something I should read. Thank you very much for the recommendation.

      Totally agree with everything you shared here, obviously.

      Hope you’re well. I appreciate your time and feedback.

  2. While I would have called “values” what you called “beliefs”, I think it is more complicated than couching it as a choice — that we can simply flip a mental (or emotional) switch and prioritize between beliefs and connections.

    In theory making that choice is nice. But, your values are the essence of who you are. And, if you are a highly principled person, you make all your big life decisions and life choices based on your value-system. In that instance, how can you simply turn that part of yourself off to honor your connection to a person?

    Family is family – I get that. We don’t choose our siblings, our parents, or our kids (or those of our partner). But, it IS problematic when you discover someone you thought you shared values with (and therefore based on your belief/value-system, is a “good” person) is actually someone who holds values that you find repugnant (and therefore is someone you can no longer respect). How do you stay emotional invested and connected to someone you no longer respect? I am not suggesting you don’t hear them out with as open a heart as you can muster, but once you have done that, all parties need to be aware that everything about the relationship may change.

    If the topic were not politics, which admittedly is a mine-field, and lets say personal choices/habits, under this logic, a spouse is being told they can choose to honor the connection or their values. How is this political discord (which is nothing more than different values) different the spouse who severs a connection over something spouse one thinks is “wrong” and spouse two thinks is “acceptable” such as adulterous behavior, drug use, or an occasional push/shove? Like political views, aren’t those choices just life-style/belief/value system behaviors?

    You might really love the individual underneath those bad choices in the short term, but how long can you stay connected to someone whose fundamental value/belief system is abhorrent to yours? Even when you hear them out and try to understand.

    I am very lucky that I knew early on that I needed to be with someone who shared the core of my values. But, I know of several marriages that have fallen under the weight of current political times. And, I get it. To see a spouse support someone whose philosophy or actions devalue you as a human means that your spouse is okay with that devaluing (even if they disagree with your interpretation). It becomes a form of complicity. How is that different than all the articles you have written about the spouse saying “I have told you what is important to me, and you either refuse to listen, or you do not believe me” ?

    Life is messy, and it is a whole lot less messy when you choose a partner who shares your belief/value system.

    1. I am not making any moral judgments about any of this. You ask thoughtful, fair questions.

      This post was the answer to the question a reader asked me via email.

      A perfectly valid choice is to choose your own values or beliefs over another person. It might even be the right thing to do (subjective) sometimes.

      All of these Shitty Husband behaviors I write about? I’m okay with people choosing them if they want to be single and/or place little stock in having close, emotionally connected interpersonal relationships.

      It occurs to me that some people don’t want to have those.

      I don’t talk about the things I talk about from a place of moral absolutes.

      I simply offer my honest thoughts and feelings and personal stories about what I perceive to have ended my marriage, and what I believe is harming other people’s marriages.

      I think there’s an optimum way to behave if you want to have a healthy, peaceful marriage and quality friendships.

      And I think there are ways to behave that are much less effective.

      Navigating conversations more thoughtfully and carefully is one of the ways I believe people can drastically improve their relationships.

      I hope that people are philosophically aligned on their core values when they choose to get together and raise children together.

      Not everyone will be.

      I share your belief that those relationships frequently suffer for it.

      If people want to sever relationships over core value differences, I won’t be confused about that.

      But what about people whose primary value is wanting to be together forever, but simply lack the skill set or tools to navigate sensitive conversation topics? (Religion and politics are extreme examples.)

      There are ways to reduce conflict that don’t involve sellout wimpy pacifism or compromising values. Just by being very mindful of how the other person might be experiencing the conversation.

      1. There absolutely are ways to reduce conflict without compromising value when you truly are committed to fully communicating, but it has to happen early on before things boil over to a point of no return.

        I guess my point is what some view as either their spouse or themselves as simply being stubborn, opinionated, or clueless (whatever adjective fits), the other may well see through a prism of misalignment of core values.

        I believe that you wanted to stay married and thought you and your wife were mostly on the same page, and because you didn’t have bad intentions, you thought things would likely work out. But I suspect that your wife experienced her hurts as a slow realization that your core values were too divergent, and it changed her connection to the relationship.

        I do think this is a fundamental female/male difference. What one views as no big deal (or not that big of a deal), the other views as deal-breaking. To him it is a misunderstanding or a disagreement, to her it is disrespect of her as a person and a sign that he can’t be trusted. — It would be awful nice if we could read each other’s intentions, both in person and when communicating electronically, because I think to some degree we are hard-wired in a way that leads to much misunderstanding.

        1. Your analysis of my marriage is accurate, but only in a pre-divorce way. NOT hurting my wife is a core value I possess.

          These things happen in a couple’s blind spots. At least the people I’m trying to reach.

          There are super-obvious problems and bad things in this world. I don’t feel compelled to talk about them. It’s all the dangerously subtle stuff that really scares me.

          Conditions that will cause a family to break-up that no one involved actually recognizes as toxic, nor knows how to effectively communicate it… that’s what can keep me up at night.

          1. Matt,
            Thank you for bringing some wisdom to light yet again. As someone who has always tended to shy away from potentially volatile conversations, I appreciate hearing of a method that may make a difference in how I relate to others. As curious as I am about why people do and think the way they do, I never considered that I might be a lot like them if my past and surroundings had been similar to theirs. Thanks again for pointing out some truth!

    2. “But, it IS problematic when you discover someone you thought you shared values with (and therefore based on your belief/value-system, is a “good” person) is actually someone who holds values that you find repugnant (and therefore is someone you can no longer respect). How do you stay emotional invested and connected to someone you no longer respect? I am not suggesting you don’t hear them out with as open a heart as you can muster, but once you have done that, all parties need to be aware that everything about the relationship may change.”

      This is the heart of the whole division, in my eyes. I’d agree about being mindful of how the other person experiences a conversation, that just seems like a common sense thing to practice in every area of life. But if you cannot respect someone because of the values they hold, or if their values show that they don’t respect or value you or your personhood, things are going to change. Period. No matter what tone of voice a person uses.

      1. I shouldn’t be presumptuous. That rarely works out in my favor.

        But when I talk about married couples, specifically, I operate from a place of assuming both people did NOT exchange forever-vows with one another without first sharing and understand (at least on a basic level) what one another’s personal values are.

        So, perhaps stupidly, any conversation surrounding married people is rooted in the idea that the two of them FOR SURE care more about one another than about a disagreement they’re having.

        My brain is incapable of coming up with another plausible scenario.

        If two married people discover in random political conversation that the person they married is a philosophical stranger, and not the person they thought they knew, then… I mean… what were people doing on their journey to deciding they should partner up for their rest of their lives?

        All that said. IF you encounter someone in total opposition of your personal values, I recommend not associating with them.

        If I’m engaged in a disagreement with someone, it must mean they matter enough to me, and have enough of my respect to warrant me wanting them to better understand me or an important idea that would improve their life.

        If that’s the case, I think it’s incumbent on me to communicate the idea effectively enough, and one of the ways to do that is to not be a massive prick while having the conversation.

        1. Hi Matt, makes sense. When I wrote the comment I had in mind my own familial disagreements over this very thing, just with parents and not a spouse. I would *hope* that people wouldn’t have married someone so fundamentally different from themselves, although I’m sure it happens. After 4 years with my boyfriend (actually living together) we only started talking about issues like feminism and social justice in the last year or two due to it being so topical. It has been an exercise in restraint at times because of differing views, but thankfully not to the point of having to abandon myself and my core-values, in order to keep the peace. THANKFULLY we do not disagree about the president. I don’t know how anyone does it otherwise. But, (the point of this rambling story) it took that long for this conversation to even come up… what if we had gotten married in that time, and then realised we couldn’t respect each other?? yikes.

  3. In regards to religion:

    I agree that it would make much sense for a person to “freak the eff out” if they believed their eternal salvation to be in jeopardy. But if I may briefly clarify what Christ claimed to be true versus what many self-professing Christians unfortunately believe, I would offer this:

    Biblically speaking, your salvation is not dependant upon your good or right behavior. You do not earn eternity with God. Everyone is lost and in need of grace, no matter how “good” a person they may seem, and apart from Christ (biblically speaking), no one will be saved.

    If that sounds harsh or ridiculous, I understand how these assertions can offend a person, in or outside of the church. We live in a meritocracy where we like to earn what we get. But if the Bible is true, we can only earn death.

    So without making this comment into more of a sermon than you may already find it to be, I just hope to clarify that one, very often mistaken interpretation of what the Bible says. Because if God were a dogmatic, works-based authority who expected perfection, I would say we’re screwed, and you should reject that silly religion.

    But that’s not what the Bible says. So please don’t reject it, or Him, for what He is not. ?

    1. Regarding politically-charged conflicts with close friends or family . . . breathe deep, I guess.

      If you believe there is a higher authority than any and every president who will one day enact perfect justice, then I’d say you might find it easier than not to set aside your opinions and recognize your common ground with a fellow sinner saved also only by grace.

      If however you think that a president is the last best hope for goodness in this world, and that through government, legislation or war we might arrive to the utopian era we all long for, I would only humbly caution you, because you will be disappointed. And you will have many opponents along the way.

      America is a prideful place. If it was ever great, it was great when it was humble. When it sacrificed of itself for goodness sake; not its own.

      That the President is more divisive than he is a uniting leader is a problem, but is that so different from the problem in your own home?

      Your husband doesn’t listen and you want to take over.

      If you can’t make peace with the person whom you selected to wed, how can we expect elected officials to perform any better? And if your vows rely not on honoring God but making one another happy, how do you expect to weather storms like heated conflict and value clashing?

      I say this as a divorced man.

  4. I think slowing down and looking for the why is very helpful advice.

    So much of this is also imho about good boundaries. If your feel the other person’s opinions are able to wound you or tear who you are down it’s hard to be curious.

    If you can consciously work to strengthen your boundaries so that what people say and disagree with you isn’t felt as a direct hit to your body it goes a long way in my experience.

    There are specific exercises I do like imagining I have an invisible force field protecting me so that when loved ones say things that would normally feel very “unsafe” to me I can imagine I can hear it without feeling personal.

    That enables me to be curious and understand the why of the other person.

    The in invisible force field also keeps me from saying unreasonable, escalating things back. It protects me and also keeps me from rupturing the connection by my response.

    1. Ah, Lisa, I think you have hit upon a couple of key points here!

      Boundaried mindset – I am a separate person from you; though we have many areas of common ground, I am entitled to have my own personal preferences and opinions, and so are you. We are in a relationship together, but this essential boundary will, and *should* always remain between us. In any relationship, it is healthy to know where *I* end, and *you* begin.

      I think, (and this is my wholy unsubstantiated opinion, lol) that the reason couples fight when there is a difference of opinion is because 1) they are not well differentiated and they experience pain and confusion when they are confronted with evidence of a partner’s divergence from self, and 2) it is perceived as threat to either the relationship or self, which kicks our human biochemistry into gear, resulting in fight, flight, or freeze behaviours. Which leads to escalation, wash, rinse, repeat.

      A healthy understanding of boundaries is key, IMO to breaking this dynamic and entering into a healthier one.

      As you rightly point out, this is a muscle that we have to consciously exercise and strengthen, I love love love the invisible forcefield exercise! Putting a barrier (boundary) between you and the other person that protects you from harming them, and them from you. I don’t know about anybody else, but that is a powerful visual for me.

      A boundaried person, when confronted with divergence from his/her partner (or anyone with whom he is in relationship, really) can observe the difference without perceiving it as a threat to connection. That changes the whole dynamic of how to respond. Suddenly, you have choices, you don’t have to get dragged into the old, unhealthy dynamic, and when you disrupt the old dynamic, you can choose the direction of a new one.

      I think this is at the heart of Matt’s post (tho he said it differently) – when you’re stuck in an unhelpful relationship dynamic, YOU have the power to recognize it, and disengage with it.

      Where Matt and I diverge is, I don’t think you actually have make a choice between people and beliefs. I think it’s quite possible for boundaried people to hold both at the same time.

      1. Anita,

        Many excellent points! You said what I was trying to say in a much more complete and clear way. ?

        I would love to hear more of your thoughts on this statement:

        “Where Matt and I diverge is, I don’t think you actually have make a choice between people and beliefs. I think it’s quite possible for boundaried people to hold both at the same time.”

        1. Well, thank you for asking ?

          Ok, well, first off, I do think there are all kinds of situations where disengaging, choosing not to rise to the “bait”, is the best choice. If I suspect there will just be an argument without a resolution, I just don’t go there. So there is a sense of choosing the “person over the principle” involved here, but at the same time I am upholding my belief that each person is autonomous and entitled to their own opinions without fear of being personally attacked for them. Unfortunately, not everybody can tell the difference between an attack on their opinions, and an attack on *them*. (Again, our current culture seems to conflate the two.) When I’m dealing with one of those, I just don’t engage. I know it won’t end well, one or both of us is going to end up saying hurtful things. I value patience, kindness, understanding and compassion. So when I choose not to engage, what I am doing is drawing a boundary *around* that which I value and wish to protect.

          For me it’s not an either/or thing. It’s both/and.

          1. You have just described my strategy for family Thanksgivings.?

            It is pointless to engage with people who aren’t really interested in hearing different points of views.

            And on certain topics with certain people I know that I don’t have as much maturity and boundaries that I need yet to engage and not get hot.

            I do think there is a caveat exception when it is important to speak out against certain things. I use that sometimes when people say things I consider harmful to others (racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-religious sentiments etc.).

            Silence can be harmful and seen as approval. It’s a balancing act imho.

            There my belief is there are societal relationships that matter too. But I try to do it is a non-attacking way as much as I can pull off. Working to get better!?

          2. Anita,

            You said:

            “Unfortunately, not everybody can tell the difference between an attack on their opinions, and an attack on *them*.”

            So true! I fail in that regard too sometimes. It’s the cause of much of the fights I have had with spouse/family.

            It’s a work in progress to develop and practice the force field boundaries.

          3. I just shared the “forcefield technique” with my daughter who has problems regulating her emotions, especially during conflict. She says she thinks “it’s brilliant!”. ?

          4. That’s great! It pays to watch a lot of Star Wars/Trek/Superhero movies.

            Sometimes I enhance it by imagining myself saying “Shields up Mr Sulu,” as I feel myself getting heated. ?

  5. And this is a bit of a socio-political observation, but I think it’s important to point out that our current culture blurs the distinction between *preferences* and *values*. It seems absurd to have to point out that having a preference for one political entity over another is not a matter of morality, but this is where we are in the Trump era. It’s no wonder this has seeped into marriages as well.

    1. It can be both a preference and a value imho.

      Politics can be more easily disagreed if it’s about preferences of HOW to reach a common goal.

      It’s when the goals are different that values come into it imho. And then the “preferences” are no longer seen as a better or worse choice but among “good” and “evil” choices. Example abortion is not a fight over preference for many people but a fight over “control over women’s bodies” vs “killing of babies”. Many of the hot button issues represented by politics (including Trump) and religion are seen by both sides as fighting for deeply held moral values.

      It’s kind of like the dishes fight. Easier to work out if it is a difference in logistical preferences. Much harder when both people see it as fighting for respect.

      I agree you can hold both but it sure is harder when the other person wants something you consider “evil” or criticality damaging etc.

      1. Definitely what we value shapes what we prefer (and vice versa, but that is a whole other discussion) which definitely adds another level of complexity. As does the reality that there ARE opinions and thoughts that are so morally repugnant that we must repudiate them where we have the influence to do so. But we repudiate their ideas, not the people themselves. We continue to uphold the person, preserve the connection, even when we condemn the position they hold.

        1. Anita,

          “We continue to uphold the person, preserve the connection, even when we condemn the position they hold.”

          You know I agree with this in principle but in practice once there is a certain level reached on the spectrum I have to disengage and avoid as much as possible in order to give that person “respect” as a person.

          I do think there is a point where connection is not longer wise or the goal.

          Now I think with family that INTENSE efforts need to be made to maintain connection and I live that but there are consequences and often the connection is sadly and regretfully superficial.

          1. Yes, I should have caveated that. You don’t “go along to get along” when you are being harmed by the other person’s behaviour. In that case, you get to decide what level of connection you wish to preserve, if any at all.

          2. Lisa,
            I have a few thoughts here- hopefully they all fit together :).

            I’m reading a book called “Behave…the biology of humans at our best and our worst.”
            It’s long enough to be intimidating, but I really like the writers tone and the topic is interesting to me, so I’m not so scared of the length.
            It goes in to the parts of our brain that registers disgust. It’s in a region called the insula.
            Only humans, some other primates, dolphins and elephants have it.
            -Mammals that have highly complex social systems- where there are tribes that inter dependend with other tribes.
            It helps us differentiate between us and them.
            So what most of us are feeling when we get that to a place of anger, disgust, ect. is in part a blind (though evolutionary adaptive) response to “other-ness”.

            When we are dealing with our immediate family members, and the topic of disagreement is an issue that *has* to be addressed, luckily I think we have more “us” curs than “other” cues.
            That’s doesn’t mean you don’t still get extremely angry, frustrated, ecmxhausted, etc… but I don’t think we get to a place of disgust. And if we did, they wouldn’t be our immediate family for long.
            So, this comment isn’t really about that scenario. (I don’t have much to contribute in that scenario, overall…)

            But if we are talking about a Thanksgiving scenario, I think this comment does apply.
            And I think Matt’s overall point apply’s here, too.

            I know exactly what you mean by ending up having shallow relationships because you just can’t agree much with that person, so you limit conversation to the very minimum to avoid feeling triggered, or starting a conversation that goes nowhere and everyone feels triggered.

            I think the same “spirit” of what is being talked about in the article can be applied to the Thanksgiving dinner scenario- even if it may look a lot different.

            The truth is nobodies opinion of anything to do with politics or religion that is sitting around the holiday table means anything in the big scheme of things . (Unless of course you are in the home of a senator or congressperson, or someone who has a means to influence and shape ideas .- and they don’t want to talk about that crap on thanksgiving anyway 😉 )
            It’s also true that many people, much of the time that are really loud with their opinions or find their identity in ideology (that isn’t to say those who have strong beliefs and opinions – but those who feel the need to externally demonstrate them in social settings) are often just lacking a place to be seen and heard in other areas of their life.
            Voicing strong opinions and getting into a political rant is a way to sound smart (or I think that is what is believed), and a way to find / feel the support of their tribe.
            It’s totally a bid for connection.
            Both by demonstrating Thier intelligence (because the HAVE an opinion) and a way to connect with others who agree with them.
            So what do you do with that? Humor them- agree just to avoid any further discussion.
            Ignore them and hope it goes away on its own?
            I would suggest you necessarily engage the person in a conversation that is suggested in the article.
            But you could engage them in a conversation that isn’t about the opinion, but is about them.
            So, uncle Fred- where did you grow up again?
            What was that like? What did you like about that time vs now?
            I think that can bring the human factor back into it.
            Basically- listening and understanding why a person feels what they feel and hearing someone’s argument about something is a super important skill that we all need to learn when dealing with close relationships.

            Maybe it’s not so much about any particular issue that needs to be understood in other areas of socializing – but the continued focus on this person being a human can maybe help people find the one small sliver they do have in common (and then both can be regarded as “us”).

            Sorry if that was a long comment for a pretty elementary idea.
            But that is what I was thinking 😉

          3. Elle,

            Sounds like an interesting book. ?

            I know what you mean about engaging the other person on personal matters. I certainly try to use that as often as I can to guide discussions away from disagreements that are pointless.

            I think as with spouses there is an element of entitlement that can enter in and that requires a different approach.

            When someone feels entitlement they are not interested in steering to the personal. They are not really interested in your opinion.

            They really require” you to agree with them or be punished in various ways.

            Those are the people, family or not, I use very superficial talk with.

            With my husband or someone I NEED to deal with the entitlement I have to confront it directly in a skilled way. (Vice versa with my sense of entitlement).

          4. Elle,

            Where I might differ from your comment is that I think opinions of politics and religion does matter a lot in the big scheme of things. It tells us what you value and think is important. How you approach life. How you make decisions big and small. What you think is right or wrong. Moral or immoral.

            Talking about other topics can also reveal that. Dishes for example. Any topic is a Rorschach test of personal interpretation.

            Our and Anita’s agreement and disagreement regarding Matt’s thoughts in his post reflect important things about us for example. Our philosophies, personality, life experiences etc.

            I agree with the book that disgust can certainly be an out of tribe display. Important to note.

            I also think that it is your tribe that can push your buttons and register disgust. When you break the “tribe rules” etc. this is where Gottman’s finding of contempt (with classic nonverbals of disgust shown) being the most toxic to relationships factor in.

            Just some random thoughts.

          5. I agree that opinions do mean a lot Andy they are important.
            I’m not down playing the development of opinions or ones steadfastness to them.
            I’m saying in the context of a family gathering they don’t really do much.
            It’s a bunch of muscle flexing without carrying the big box.
            Thanksgiving is not the G8 summit.
            I understand the value of belief and opinions in the functioning of everyday life , and in the functioning of a free society.
            I just think it is used as a mask at times (and in certain contexts) and creates a division that appears to be the only reality- when there are likely other things that do connect us.

  6. “Spouse brings up any topic in the news (mainstream or otherwise). The other spouse makes a comment on it that the first spouse doesn’t agree with. First spouse flips out.”

    First spouse is looking for a reason to flip out and is lobbing the ball. Second spouse doesn’t have to respond as always.

    “I don’t want to discuss this topic.”

    First spouse has a choice: get louder or not.

    Second spouse can be a participant or get out of ear shot.

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top
Matt Fray

Get my latest writing!

Sign up for my free weekly email newsletter as I continue an on-going exploration of love and relationships.