Relationships Split During the Election? Time to Make Amends

We are accustomed to seeing relationships end over money, poor communication, lying, cheating, different life paths, abuse — but not often over elections.

For many people, what fundamentally defines us as social beings — our friendships, familial connections and romantic relationships — was rocked by the 2016 presidential election.

Monmouth University reported survey findings in September showing that 70 percent of respondents believed the campaign for the U.S. presidency by Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton "brought out the worst characteristics" in people. Differences were evident on Facebook, via Twitter and face to face.

"There are people on both sides of the spectrum who feel disenfranchised, ignored, not represented by their elected officials and so on," said behavioral scientist Chris Segrin, head of the University of Arizona Department of Communication.

"When people encounter a person in their social network who endorses a different set of values, arguing with that person presents a rare opportunity for the disenfranchised individual to make his or her voice heard, even if in the context of a dyadic relationship," Segrin said. "This is why interpersonal relationships can become contexts for intensive disagreement. People want their voice to be heard, and if that cannot happen in Washington, D.C., then perhaps the front seat of the car or the kitchen with a friend or family member will suffice, at least temporarily."

What's more, Monmouth researchers reported that, of those surveyed, about 7 percent indicated that they had lost a relationship during the election.

The distress has extended into the postelection cycle following Trump's surprising victory Nov. 8 over Clinton.

Across the nation, peace activists, religious leaders and even President Barack Obama have called for unity and healing in the wake of protests and race-based attacks.

"For nearly 60 million people, the results of the U.S. election came as a tremendous shock and as a tremendous loss," said David Sbarra, a UA psychology professor and director of the Laboratory for Social Connectedness and Health.

"Many people are saying, 'I feel like I am grieving.' This is accurate, and it is important to note that these feelings are not like grief but, instead, are grief itself," said Sbarra, a researcher who studies study loss and relationships. "Symbolic losses — the loss of a planned future or the shattering of a worldview — can be profoundly difficult."

For those experiencing grief, and for others who would like to try to reconnect with family and friends dismissed over politics, Segrin and Sbarra offer a few tips:

  • Engage in life. Continue to find appreciation and joy in work, love and play.
  • Temper your interactions online. In particular, don't allow yourself to become overwhelmed with election-related discussions.
  • Don't try to fight all fights. There is no need to engage at every opportunity with that cousin or longtime friend who holds opposing views.
  • Redirect your attention. Be the example that you want to see in other people.
  • Own your behavior. Apologize and ask for forgiveness where it is warranted.
  • Rely on compassion. Look for the positive intent in the opposition. Try to find commonality and understanding across political boundaries. Understand that reconciliation takes time.

Segrin said that creating greater distance between yourself and those who have opposing views is usually helpful only in extreme cases, such as the presence or potential for violence. Merely turning away from uncomfortable conversation? Not so much.

"In the U.S., there is a destructive norm to not discuss sex, politics and religion," Segrin said. "The failure to talk openly and candidly about such issues — in the appropriate context, of course — has led to a lot of interpersonal problems. Many of these problems could be resolved if people could open a dialogue and begin to see themselves in each other. Without dialogue, that vision is nearly impossible."

In interactions with others, especially those of different views, Sbarra asks a couple of questions and offers suggestions.

"What is the goal of your exchange? To maintain the relationship with your brother-in-law for the rest of your life, or to prove that Trump's domestic policies are flawed? From a distance, it seems like the former is better," Sbarra said. "And, if the latter really upsets you, re-read the points on looking for the positive intent. Continually shining the light on the disagreements will inevitably reopen the wounds."

Instead of vilifying friends and family, people must try to connect with and help each other, Sbarra said. Otherwise, grief can evolve into fear, sadness, anger and other negative emotions, contributing to physical pain, he said.

"Healing sometimes means apologizing," he said. "If you've said hurtful things and fractured important relationships, take responsibility for these behaviors. The power of saying, 'I overdid it, I am sorry,' can be enormous. In situations where the relationship really matters, I often think it's more important to be effective than to be right."

by: La Monica Everett-Haynes, University Communications

Nov. 16, 2016

Original story here

Published Date: 

11/21/2016 - 9:32am