Many readers responded to my column, Impacts of the Election on Family Relationships. Although I focused primarily on family relationships, many readers report that the presidential election affects non-familial relationships as well.
For example, one reader writes: “Someone posted this comment on your column [referenced above]: ‘Just experienced a “it’s better if we don’t talk” email from old friend with attachment from HER HUSBAND!!! Well, like you say, I choose my relationship boundaries. This is one friendship from which I have to distance myself. At least, for now.’
My question is, how do I let people know I don’t want to receive their e-mails about politics without hurting their feelings?”
There are a couple of ways you might handle this. One way is to simply not to respond to e-mails that you don’t want to receive; just ignore them and respond only to the ones that are in your comfort zone. After a while, the sender will probably figure out that you are responding selectively to non-political e-mails.
Another way is to be more forthright and write back: “I have decided not to engage in political discussions. I thank you in advance for respecting my decision.” You don’t have to apologize, you don’t have to explain or go into any detail – you are stating your decision and setting boundaries that you expect to be honored. This same response can be used in face-to-face contacts, too.
If you are in a situation where someone makes a political comment and turns to you for your input, again, respond with this: “I have decided not to engage in political discussions. I thank you in advance for respecting my decision.” If someone becomes insistent that you explain yourself, just repeat this statement, and if necessary, remove yourself. I offer these suggestions as ways to address your desire not to hurt anyone’s feelings while meeting your own need of not participating in certain discussions.
With regard to hurting feelings, here is another perspective. A reader wrote how this election has emboldened her: “ . . . My innate wiring is to be a consummate diplomat, so I always want to make sure that everyone is happy, nobody is offended. Also, that people like me. At 45, and now with some deeper life perspective having faced a life-threatening disease, I’m realizing that life is too short not to speak up. I’ll always want to be diplomatic. I’ll always want people to like me. I’ll always want to not offend anyone. BUT… when we’re faced with such an atrocity as DT [Donald Trump], I feel it’s important to get out of one’s comfort zone and say what needs to be said.” I think this writer makes an important point about “always wanting to be diplomatic,” even in emotionally charged discussions. I agree that always being cordial and pleasant can go a long way to minimizing later-regretted behaviors.
The point about speaking one’s mind brings me to Facebook [FB]. Over the past few months, both prior to and after the election, I have witnessed the deterioration of relationships. The typical situation is that someone posts something that is comforting to some and provocative to others.
The battle of the comments commences, often becoming nasty with profanity and name calling, and often reaching the point where someone writes, “I cannot take you anymore. I have to unfriend you.” I am not sure how many minds are actually changed by political comments posted on Facebook, but I am sure that many relationships are changed by those comments.
And finally, counter-intuitively, being in agreement can create potential issues. For example, a grandmother writes: “I have a group of close girlfriends. We are all on the same page politically, in fact, vehemently so. I am finding I am losing my enthusiasm for getting together because we spend so much time talking about our fears, rage, and disbelief at what’s going on. I get an upset stomach.”
I suggest a couple of ways of handling this. First of all, chances are that are not alone in feeling stressed and emotionally exhausted by these conversations. Since these are friends with whom your views are aligned, you may feel comfortable sharing your true feelings and asking if others are feeling similarly stressed. If the answer is yes, you all may decide to put some time limits on these discussions.
Another option is to change the focus of the conversations. Use your time together to bring each other up to date on what you’re actually doing to deal with your fears, rage, and concerns. Talk about what watchdog organizations you have joined, and why you chose them. Talk about politicians you’re contacting and kinds of reactions you’re getting from them. Talk about sources of information that you find helpful. These kinds of conversations can be empowering and move discussions beyond feelings of helplessness.
A third option is to declare when you are at the outer limits with your like-minded family members and friends: “I am taking a break from political discussions. I’ll let you know when I’m back in the game.” (This statement can also be used effectively with non like-minded family and friends, too.)
I close with this comment from a young mom: “ . . . Dr. Gramma Karen, this point you made especially resonated with me:
‘There are times it’s okay to ignore the elephant in the room. The point is that not everything needs to be discussed and analyzed, especially when one’s respect for someone is diminished, or no longer exists. Some conversations need not, and should not, take place, especially when it involves family members.’
I find this an excellent point to remember when intense emotions and feelings are involved, especially during these times of extreme political divisiveness.”
Today is February 14.
Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.
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The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely the blog contributor’s. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider. Writers may have conflicts of interest, and their opinions are their own.