Relationships That Die in Polarized Politics

In 2020, we are grieving the loss of relationships. I am not talking about isolation during the pandemic. I am talking about the people that we need to disconnect from or wall off now. Their personal politics are beyond what we can respect. (Suddenly, it seems.)

Were they always nothing like us? What has changed to make this so apparent?

News shows have become more and more about entertainment. This did not start in 2016. TV pundits were calling the opposing side insulting names since the 1980s, maybe even earlier. (Example, Rush Limbaugh called Chelsea Clinton – age 6 – a dog.)

But back then, I could have friendships, do coalition work, and do paid work alongside people who held the opposite political view on hot topics like abortion, women’s rights, international politics. Now, people go from “I disagree” to “you are a $^#$^#$.”

Ending relationships vs. giving another chance

John Pavlovitz addressed this grieving for lost relationships in a recent blog. I was sent a copy by someone I had been coaching about a relative of hers. I feel like John’s blog is a resignation. He is giving up on people he used to respect. I think he is giving up too soon.

I am not saying that you need to stay in abusive relationships with people who don’t understand your politics. You have the right to demand to be addressed respectfully.

I am not saying you need to respect people who are holding views you find repugnant.

You may be able to find neutral social or work-related ground and call a “no politics” zone.

You may also choose to emotionally wall yourself from this person. You many still love them, but you don’t have to like anything about their politics. If you have lost all respect for them, that is sad. You should mourn. A loss of respect will erode the love you felt.

If someone has power over you, and their politics are aimed at maintaining or enhancing that power, it may become abusive. At that point. Mourn the relationship. It is dying.

Ways to salvage relationships

In 2017, I told the story about Chip and Joanna Gaines. They are Evangelical Christians and followers of a minister who actively works against the interests of LGBTQ people. Chip and Joanna told a good story about how they would rather be loving than right.

That can work, unless that person is being “loving,” but also giving time and money to structures of your oppression. When rich heterosexual Christians give money to fight against the right to marry or other civil rights, it is not “loving.”

If someone is not actively supporting causes, with time or money, you may be able to find common ground. Here’s how.

If you have to talk about politics with someone who you know to hold opposite views, stick to topics about things we all agree on wanting. Then discuss how they can be achieved.

I teach my bystander intervention students that there are some basic needs that everyone wants and needs. The big two are: Physical comfort/security and dignity/respect/caring.  I encourage my students to seek fodder for agreement, in principle. For example:

  • Everyone wants America to be safe; we may disagree about how to make that happen.
  • Everyone wants love and respect; we have both been disrespected by people on the other side of our argument and we don’t want to continue in that vein.
  • No one wants an unjust war; we disagree about what war is justified and what war is not.

It’s worth one or two more tries before you set a wall between you and someone you love.

Leave a Reply