How to deal with your parent or partner backing a different political party to you
This is what a few relationship experts had to say on dealing with the ones you love backing a party you don’t love.
Whether politics is something you actively engage in or something that passes you by, it’s a fairly inescapable topic at the moment with the General Election looming.
As the campaign heats up, so do the debates about who’s best to be running the country – and those conversations become all the more uncomfortable and problematic when someone close, whether that be a partner or parent, announces that they’re backing an opposing side.
Here’s what psychotherapist and couples’ counsellor Hilda Burke and emotional health and relationship expert David James Lees have to say on how to deal with relationship conflict caused by different political stances.
Make sure your views are actually yours
Parents can be guilty of assuming their children will follow their political views but people, in general, can also be guilty of soaking up the views of others and calling them their own, says Lees.
So start by researching policies, not regurgitating headlines. “Take the time to do your own self-inquiry work and ensure that your political views are in fact yours and not something that you have inherited from your family, your environment or peers,” he advises.
Don’t shy away from discussing the topic
If you think it’s for the best to avoid talking to your boyfriend or girlfriend about political differences in case it leads to an argument, you should really be thinking the opposite, says Lees.
He says: “Perhaps their partner’s opinion is correct, and so they can take this opportunity to learn something new. Or perhaps their partner’s view is misguided, in which case the partner can learn and benefit too. I see this as a win-win situation, which will strengthen both the individuals and the relationship.”
And you never know, as Burke says, you might actually realise you share the same ideals but just see them being achieved in a different way.
She adds: “In some ways politics reminds me of parenting. Certain parents feel the best way for their children to develop and prosper is to allow them a lot of space, not to interfere too much, whereas for others, they feel they should be with their children every step of the way – playing a more directional role.
“And so it is with politics. Two people could have the same goal – that everyone in society thrives – but the way they see that being achieved is different. In short, there may be many points of commonality in terms of values even though they’re expressed through supporting very different parties.”
Don’t say ‘you’re wrong’
As much as you might be tempted to yell at someone that they don’t know what they’re talking about, it’ll probably come as little surprise that that’s not the right way to respond to differing opinions.
Criticising your partner’s views isn’t only unhelpful, says Burke, it’s not what the focus should really be on, which is listening. “Try to maintain a curious attitude towards your partner and give them the space to express themselves rather than trying to convert them to your way of thinking,” she says.
When dealing with parents, ask them to explain their beliefs rather than just shutting them down. Lees says: “This simple technique will change an argument into a genuinely interesting inquiry and conversation about your parents, their history, and background, which demonstrates that although you may have a different view you still respect and value them.”
Switch up your social media
Resisting the tendency to turn your social media accounts into an echo chamber of your own points of view can help you deal with conflicts in the real world.
“Social media offers an input of information that has the potential to strengthen, diversify or dilute your politics and its rationale, depending on how you use it.
“Social media can be valuable in presenting conflicting discussion and debate so you can become more aware of other people’s opinions, beliefs, backgrounds and history,” says Lees.
Learn to accept and negotiate your differences
Even though it might seem impossible at times, you can actually live in harmony with someone who doesn’t agree with your politics.
Points of difference will inevitably begin to show the deeper into a relationship a couple gets, says Burke. “The challenge for each individual in a relationship is to be able to accept their partner’s points of difference. That’s not to say that you don’t debate that difference, or even get annoyed about it on occasion, but whether you can tolerate that they have different views to you but that ultimately you love them for the entirety of who they are.”
Similarly, living under the same roof as your liberal or conservative mum and dad doesn’t have to be tense – establishing mutual respect and acceptance are the best way forward, says Lees. And at least it never gets boring.
Realise that accepting their beliefs isn’t necessarily letting yours down
Some people might feel so passionately about their politics that they think they have to question, dismiss or even end relationships if they can’t get others on their side.
But Lees says: “You will never change anyone’s point of view, the best you will ever achieve is to help broaden their personal perception.”
And when it comes to perception, it’s time people became aware that they are – generally speaking – “a bag of contradictions”, according to Burke.
“Ultimately, conservative, liberal, socialist, green are just labels. Most people, if they pause long enough to put their party persuasions to the side, will acknowledge (even if it’s just privately) that they don’t go along with 100% of their party’s manifestos,” she adds.
Lees warns that refusing to embrace change is actually what should disappoint people.
“A political party is not a cult and their policies should be open for discussion, debate and evolution. I would remind them that they would be letting down themselves and their party if they discovered a superior or better point of view and refused to examine, learn from or adopt it,” he says.