As discussed in my previous blog, this last year between Debbie and I have been filled with divisiveness. I had become very triggered to the point where I would not listen to anything she said about Trump. What I didn’t quite realize was that my trying to convince her to make choices that I believed were correct, was pushing her in the opposite direction. I was behaving as if I had “the truth”. In some way I was attempting to inhibit her freedom of speech and expression by criticizing and shaming her. I wanted to eliminate her belief that something about Donald Trump was worth considering. In fact, I was intolerant towards what I believe was her tolerance towards Donald Trump’s intolerance. In the name of tolerance I was becoming intolerant. In the name of open-mindedness I was becoming closed-minded. I realized there was a rupture in our culture that had infiltrated into my relationship with Debbie.
In order to heal this rupture we needed to have a conversation where we both could feel safe to share the pain of our differences and the divisiveness that had resulted in my inability to accept our differences. I was determined to repair the rupture in our relationship by discussing the issues in a loving and respectful way.
I decided to take my own advice and use the intentional dialogue structure that I teach to my couples in my marriage/ relationship counseling sessions. Debbie and I decided to have an intentional dialogue where both of us would set an intention to suspend our judgment and opinions and truly listen to each other without interrupting or becoming reactive. We used the structure of mirroring, summarizing validating and empathizing.
We were committed to having a civil conversation, with the hope of sharing our distress, understanding each other’s perspective, and getting out of the bubble where one of us is right and one of us is wrong. The answer to who is right and who is wrong never gets you to the truth. In fact, there is no one truth. Instead of pushing my point to win the argument, I tried approaching Debbie’s differences with respect and curiosity. I decided to genuinely listen in order to more fully understand where she’s coming from. I was no longer trying to win the argument or convert Debbie to my position or perspective. Instead I was trying to come to a place of mutual respect and understanding.
Of course, this required some self-awareness. I began to realize that it really wasn’t Debbie’s different perspective that was causing the argument but rather my objection to her different perspective. Essentially I was saying to her, “it’s not okay for you to be you.” Once we completed the dialogue, we both felt that we had crossed the bridge and for the first time I felt we were respecting and understanding each other and could agree to disagree.
Approximately 25% of couples are mixed politically. In fact, my private practice has recently seen an uptick in couples whose central issue is the election. Although I am very grateful that Debbie and I were able to work through our differences, I will also say that I am still quite triggered and have decided not to watch any politics on TV for a while. In fact, I haven’t watched the news since the election. I’ve also put a moratorium on all political conversations for a while. I realize that it’s time to go on with my life and create the life that I want and not be so concerned and worried that the President, Congress, and the Senate are going to ruin my life. My life is my life, and I truly believe that every day we are creating our own reality.
We also can’t forget that 50% of the country is split, so the whole country is going through a healing process. Very few of us have friends or family who aren’t of the opposite political persuasion. Getting through this can be difficult and create a great deal of strain and stress in the relationship.
Last night I went out to dinner with Debbie and four of her Republican friends. They arrived with a bag of Playdough, a coloring book and some crayons to help sooth my feelings. I think they believe that’s what liberals use to relax when they are stressed out. They wanted to bring a therapy dog, but after checking with the restaurant, it was not allowed. They teased me throughout the night about being a loser and there was an undercurrent of gloating from all of them. Fortunately, above all that, there was a lot of warmth, connection and laughter. This week, Debbie joined my family for Thanksgiving. It was her turn to be with the other side post election.
Given how passionate my family is with their liberal perspective and knowing Debbie’s viewpoints, I was pleasantly surprised that our time together was congenial. Although politics came up at various times throughout the night, there was a look in everyone’s eyes that said “we disagree, we probably shouldn’t go too far down this path.” There was an unspoken but mutually agreed-upon “let’s agree to disagree and let’s change the topic right now.” As with Debbie’s friends, I felt the warmth and connection that trumped political differences. (No pun intended.) I guess this is a lesson in life. When we recognize that love is more important than our differences, then we can truly be grateful for the conflict because within the conflict is a great opportunity for personal growth and healing. What I learned is “I don’t have to be right,” and that everyone has a right to their opinion.