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Healing from the political divide: Politics fractures friends and family relationships

White House
Posted at 12:54 PM, Jan 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-20 14:54:44-05

PHOENIX — With the start of a new chapter in America, how do we begin to heal the deep political divide that has impacted our communities? ABC15 has heard from people who say they no longer talk to friends, they are staying away from certain relatives, and in some cases, they have even stopped talking to their mom or dad, all because of politics.

From who they supported for president, to how they feel about certain issues, their stance on how communities can prevent the spread of COVID-19, and the use of masks versus no masks are all issues that have caused people to question the 'state of the union' of their relationships.

According to a 2020 American Psychological Association Survey, 40% of adults say the political climate has caused a strain in their friendships and relationships.

"There are a few people I've backed away from," said Mickey Boyd, a West Valley woman who said she was personally attacked by people she considered good friends over whom she voted for after the election.

"One of my friends, we used to do stuff together a lot, spend vacations together, hang out with our families, he started to tell me I was a 'sheep' and that I couldn't be trusted," said Boyd, stating she no longer spoke to that friend.

Another man who asked not to be identified tells ABC15 he no longer speaks to his father, over differing political viewpoints.

Brent Kleinman says he has faced name-calling and insults over his political views as well.

"I"ve been called communist, socialist, anti-American. I've been told I don't support the police, the military. I have friends and family that are in law enforcement and the military," said Kleinman.

"I think we need to go back to realizing differences of opinion doesn't make a person a good or bad person," added Boyd.

She said that trying to talk to those who were attacking her was pointless.

"There's just too many people yelling and nobody is listening. The louder you speak, less people hear you," she said.

So how can you begin to heal these relationships? Experts say it can be done. At a time when our nation needs to heal, instead of avoiding these tough talks experts say more conversation is desperately needed, but more important than that, is more listening.

"Sometimes we have to realize, what is the purpose of the conversation? Are we going to change somebody's mind or are we simply just needing to listen? Let them vent, process what's happening," said Dr. Andrea Raby, Vice President of Psychiatry at Bayless Integrated Healthcare.

"Being calm, being respectful, and above all being receptive and accepting of somebody else's opinion can make all the difference," she added.

Dr. Raby also advised you should watch your "tone" and avoid inflammatory language. Speak in as neutral a tone as possible.

"And you know what, at the end of the day if you don't agree, it's okay to be honest and say look, we're not going to solve this but it's not going to change the way I feel about you in the end," said Dr. Raby.

Christina Orellana, a Primary Therapist with the Scottsdale Recovery Center adds her words of wisdom.

"I think that a really important tool that we teach in recovery that everyone would benefit from is practicing and asserting healthy boundaries. Knowing what your boundaries are and implementing them," said Orellana.

If none of that worked and hurtful words are exchanged, experts say practice 'social distancing'. It's okay to take a break to cool off, from your family or friends and reconnect with them later.

Dr. Raby advised you to be pro-active and have other topics of conversation ready to go, in case things start steering into uncomfortable territory once again. She said you should acknowledge that you may never change a person's mind, but focus on areas that you do agree to keep the conversation positive.

"In the end, we have to remember what our end goal is here. Is it to negatively impact the relationship? Change their mind? Or just to be heard?

For other tips on managing political conversations with loved ones, visit Managing conversations when you disagree politically.