aldomurillo/E+ via Getty Images

Talking Politics: How to Talk to Family During an Election Year

Talking Politics: How to Talk to Family During an Election Year

Politics are tricky, but talking to your family doesn’t have to be.

aldomurillo/E+ via Getty Images

Maintaining a healthy relationship with loved ones is a goal everyone should have. But discussing difficult topics can easily throw an ax in that plan. Politics, in particular, is a subject matter that can bring people together or create a permanent rift in relationships. And with the presidential election looming, political conversations — from how you plan to vote to who you plan to vote for — have taken center stage. 

To best understand how to talk to family about politics, we spoke with Dr. Casey Gamboni, a therapist and teaching and supervising faculty member at the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at The Family Institute at Northwestern University.

Yes, you should talk about politics

Yes, you should talk about politics

MoMo Production/DigitalVision via Getty Images

Among the many life lessons our parents teach us, not discussing politics in any shape or form usually falls somewhere on the list.  According to Gamboni, however, the etiquette rule your parents followed is obsolete — you should “absolutely” discuss politics with your family.

But if you don’t want to, establish boundaries

But if you don’t want to, establish boundaries

Roberto Westbrook/Image Source via Getty Images

Discussing politics — especially if your family has opposing views — can be both physically and emotionally draining. If you’re not prepared to handle the conversation — or you don’t want to — Gamboni recommends establishing boundaries and telling family in a way that works best for you that you don’t want to have the conversation. Gamboni suggests doing a check to see how you feel both physically and emotionally before entering the conversation.  “If you need to say, ‘Hey, I’m not comfortable having this conversation,’ do that, but at the end of the day, you need to know your out,” Gamboni said.

When talking to anyone: Recognize the goal of the conversation

When talking to anyone: Recognize the goal of the conversation

SDI Productions/E+ via Getty Images

According to Gamboni, it’s essential to recognize and examine your goal in engaging someone else in a political discussion before diving into the conversation. “If you look at particular conversations, especially ones regarding politics, it typically ends up in a blow-up fight, which then causes a tear without a repair,” Gamboni said. “What I try to encourage is to examine that conversation. What’s the goal of having that particular conversation?”

When talking to anyone: Don’t aim to change their viewpoints with one conversation

When talking to anyone: Don’t aim to change their viewpoints with one conversation

kali9/E+ via Getty Images

As much as you’d like for your political opinions to influence your family to agree with you, beginning the conversation with a goal to change everyone’s mind in one fell swoop is a recipe for failure. “If the goal [of the conversation] is to change [your family’s] entire worldview to agree with yours, you’re probably going to end up with dysfunction,” Gamboni said. “Even if you are the most influential person in the world, someone’s perspective is not going to flip on the dime. One conversation dealing with politics is not going to change someone’s viewpoint overnight. That puts a lot of pressure on that one interaction.”

When talking to anyone: Be process-oriented instead of content-oriented

When talking to anyone: Be process-oriented instead of content-oriented

SDI Productions/E+ via Getty Images

When you have conflicting views, it’s easy to get wrapped up in how much you disagree with what your family is saying. When things start to get out of hand and you need to de-escalate the conversation, Gamboni recommends focusing on how things are being communicated between the two of you rather than what's being communicated. “When you feel like everything the other person is saying is wrong, be process-oriented instead of content-oriented,” Gamboni said. “Instead of focusing on the content, take moments to reflect on how you’re talking about the topic. Are you arguing? Are your voices raised? Why are you uncomfortable with what’s being said?”  

When talking to anyone: Ask clarifying questions

When talking to anyone: Ask clarifying questions

Ariel Skelley/DigitalVision

If everything the other person is saying feels wrong or toxic, Gamboni recommends asking clarifying questions to gain a deeper understanding of the person rather than rushing to “demonize” them. “Politics is an ultra-sensitive topic no matter what you believe in,” Gamboni said. “It’s necessary to ask clarifying questions to make sure you’re hearing them correctly. If you’re on the receiving end of someone who, on the surface level, makes absolutely no sense, is just rooted in ignorance, and is hurtful, ask more questions about how they came up with a particular belief or what led them to think in that particular way.” 

When talking to anyone: Focus your conversation through a personal lens

When talking to anyone: Focus your conversation through a personal lens

Stígur Már Karlsson /Heimsmyndir/E+ via Getty Images

Discussing politics with someone you have an important relationship with can get heated when the conversation revolves around how wrong they are for not agreeing with you. Instead, Gamboni recommends using a personal lens to express how their opposing views impact you. “If you need to have a conversation with someone who means a lot to you, you should encourage a more personal exchange around how your life is going to be impacted by their views," Gamboni said. "Instead of being like “you” or “they,” revert it to “I” statements and more of a personal conversation as opposed to a one-sided argument.”

When talking to anyone: Empathize

When talking to anyone: Empathize

kupicoo/E+ via Getty Images

Empathy is an essential skill that can help foster healthy discussions with family members on the opposing end of the political debate, according to Gamboni. “Being empathetic can add to an understanding as to why people believe what they do and not just what they believe,” Gamboni said. “You can walk out of the conversations having completely different views, but if you develop some empathy toward them to understand why they believe what they do, it’s going to make you not want to run away from them.”

When talking to anyone: Accept not everyone will understand your views

When talking to anyone: Accept not everyone will understand your views

gilaxia/E+ via Getty Images

As you discuss your political beliefs and passions, it's normal to want everyone to understand your views. But according to Gamboni, not everyone will, and that's OK. “We each have complexities and individual backgrounds,” he said.

When talking to anyone: When you’re alone on an issue, assess your safety

When talking to anyone: When you’re alone on an issue, assess your safety

skynesher/E+ via Getty Images

No matter where your political views lie, you might find yourself the lone wolf on one side of the debate. According to Gamboni, during these moments, it’s critical to assess if standing alone will affect you negatively by causing stress or anxiety. “Establish a boundary if you don’t feel safe and comfortable if you’re by yourself,” Gamboni said. “Stand up and believe in what you believe in, but your safety should be the top priority, whether that be physical or emotional.”

When talking to anyone: Do what’s best for you post-conversation

When talking to anyone: Do what’s best for you post-conversation

triloks/iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

In the immediate aftermath of a political conversation, if tempers flare and you’re dealing with stress, anger or sadness, you shouldn’t feel an immediate need to reconcile with your family. Instead, Gamboni recommends assessing how you feel, understanding why and doing what’s best for you. “I think every situation is going to be different based on the impact of the conversation, but you should read your body to see if you’re comfortable changing topics,” Gamboni said. “If you do need to get up and take space, that’s OK too. It’s completely dependent on the person, but having an internal assessment is what’s necessary.” 

When talking to parents: Take a more curious stance

When talking to parents: Take a more curious stance

davidf/iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

New life experiences — like going to college, getting married or having children — can change your worldview and lead to fresh takes on life. If your new worldview doesn’t align with your parents’, don’t force them to believe what you do. Instead, take a curious standpoint. “Take into consideration what made your parents feel the way they do and why," Gamboni said. "This will allow you to get to know the parent in a new way. The goal isn't to change your parents."

When talking to parents: Inform

When talking to parents: Inform

Daisy-Daisy/iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

Along with being curious when talking to parents about politics, Gamboni suggests informing your parents of your political beliefs rather than allowing them to work off the assumption that they know who you are. According to Gamboni, refraining from familiarizing your parents with your new views will lead to them “making decisions and saying things based on who they think you are.” “Igniting those conversations and updating mom and dad who you are as an individual is going to have them keep things in mind when they speak to you,” Gamboni said.

When talking to children: Understand their beliefs aren’t always a reflection of yours

When talking to children: Understand their beliefs aren’t always a reflection of yours

SDI Productions/E+ via Getty Images

A common parenting mistake is expecting your child to always do what you do and think how you want them to. Understand that, although you may be alike in other ways, their beliefs won’t always align with yours. “A common narrative is that a child is a reflection of who the parent is,” Gamboni said. “That’s not necessarily true. If you’re a parent who believes a particular thing, and you have a child come to you and say, ‘I think differently,’ don’t take it personally.”

When talking to children: Question what your child wants to get out of the conversation

When talking to children: Question what your child wants to get out of the conversation

10'000 Hours/DigitalVision via Getty Images

An easy way to build a stronger relationship with your children is to show interest in their interests by asking questions. Rather than demeaning your child for having certain political beliefs, ask questions to gain a better understanding of why they believe what they do. “If your child is talking to you [about their political beliefs], ask yourself what you want them to get out of the conversation and what they want out of the conversation,” Gamboni said. “If it’s just to inform you, great. If it’s to start a dialogue about [politics], ask why they believe what they do, who taught them this lesson, and what makes them think this way.”

When talking to young children: Don’t ignore politics

When talking to young children: Don’t ignore politics

10'000 Hours/DigitalVision via Getty Images

It’s normal to want to shelter your child and keep them safe from the reality of the world. But according to Gamboni, ignoring politics can do more harm than good in the long run. “Everything is political, whether it be the presidential election or George Floyd’s murder,” Gamboni said. “I don’t think it’s something that parents should ignore. You don’t want your child to develop a fear of particular topics or a fear of politics. You want them to become knowledgeable so that they don’t make decisions rooted in ignorance.”

When talking to young children: Present the facts, not opinions

When talking to young children: Present the facts, not opinions

Steven C. De La Cruz/Image Source via Getty Images

According to Gamboni, when talking to young children about politics, it’s also critical to refrain from injecting your opinions into the conversation. Present the facts, not opinions.

When talking to young children: Find an explanatory avenue that works best for you

When talking to young children: Find an explanatory avenue that works best for you

Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/DigitalVision via Getty Images

Whether you use a learning app, take an online class together or read political children’s books, Gamboni recommends finding a way that works best for you to introduce politics into your child’s life.

When talking to a partner: Don’t expect them to have the same views as you

When talking to a partner: Don’t expect them to have the same views as you

MoMo Productions/DigitalVision via Getty Images

The world of dating has changed, and with politics at the front and center of everyone’s lives, discussions about political beliefs have found a way to seep into most relationships. According to Gamboni, you shouldn’t expect your partner to have the same viewpoints as you, even if you are compatible in every other way.  “I think, ultimately, you’re not supposed to be with someone who has the same views as you,” Gamboni said. “The absence of differing views is not the goal because you absolutely can find cohesion. Views and perspectives are all able to change. Something to keep in mind is that having you in [your partner’s] life can be a reason they change their views.”

When talking to a partner: Consider your core values

When talking to a partner: Consider your core values

lechatnoir/E+ via Getty Images

Before jumping into a romantic adventure with a new partner, Gamboni suggests considering your political values. If you have deal-breakers, mention it before pursuing the person further.  “What I think is important, and what we’ve been seeing, is discussions about political beliefs is a conversation that one should have during the dating process,” Gamboni said. “Everyone has their definition of a dealbreaker. Think about your core values and what your deal-breakers are.” If you’re hoping to become more involved in politics, here’s how to vote in the 2020 election safely in person.

More from The Active Times

How to Help a Child With Separation Anxiety

USPS 101: Historic Photos and Facts to Know About the US Postal Service

SNAP Benefits: How to Apply, How to Receive and More

Coronavirus and School: What Do The Different Models Mean?

How to Support Black-owned Businesses