This week I did a segment on the National Public Radio program To the Point, “One Year Later: Is Political Polarization Affecting Your Family?“ on KCRW in Los Angeles. It’s not easy for any of us to believe that conflict can be a positive, especially family conflict about the current administration.
Even if you don’t describe yourself as “conflict averse,” chances are you figure the best thing about a conflict is when it’s behind you. But whether we’re talking about a domestic quarrel over who does the laundry or a political battle with your father-in-law over holiday dinner, there’s a lot to be gained by managing a conflict so it turns into an opportunity.
Often when couples argue, the topic at hand is only the iceberg’s tip. You start out with a spat about the laundry, but if you take the time to listen to each other you discover that there’s a lot you can learn from each other both learn about what the daily pressures of life and work feel like, and about who’s been doing what.
If you can take the giant step from insisting on Being Right to understanding that as a couple you need to both care about both of your needs and to prioritize the relationship so that it will nurture you both, then you’ll discover what’s golden in conflict. It’s a chance to build understanding and to grow creatively as a couple.
So so what about you and your father-in-law? Talking across the political divide probably feels a lot less promising. And as long as you focus on trying to persuade him that you’re right, you’re not going to get anywhere.
Try listening instead. I don’t mean to a rehash of what he’s hearing on his favorite talk radio station. Ask him how things are going in his town, at his job. Be curious. Don’t reduce him to his most outrageous view. If he says something provocative, don’t take the bait. Tell him about your city, your neighborhood.
Set boundaries, No attacking. Agree ahead of time that if you feel like you’re about to blow a gasket, either of you can call a time-out. Pay attention to your body. Keep breathing.
Remember that you both care about the country’s future, no matter how differently you see it. Like it or not, we’re all in this together.