In a story for the New York Times, one woman said she threatened to end her 11-year marriage with her husband on the night of Trump’s election. “The next morning, with tears in my eyes, I told Nisim we were going to have to get divorced because I could not live with him for the next four years,” Debra Gaynor, the woman in question, told the NYT. “He said, ‘Honey, we’re not going to get divorced. We’re just not going to talk about politics for the next four years.’”
While avoiding any discussion of politics for four years is one answer, when dealing with any loved one whose political ideology is so far from your own, you can still disagree without the need to contact a divorce attorney. With friends, it’s also complicated; you may decide to go your separate ways when you disagree so passionately on which candidate you support or which party you belong to.
A conversation over politics when you both disagree isn’t easy, will probably become personal, and you may not change anyone’s views. Just understand what you’re getting yourself into and be sure to establish your own boundaries.
Don’t assume you’ll come to a mutual understanding
Before you embark on a discussion of politics with a friend who doesn’t share your beliefs, first, manage your expectations and don’t expect to change their views. You should understand up front that no amount of hard evidence can convince some people that their views are wrong or even remotely worthy of reconsideration. Understand your goal from the conversation, whether it’s to change their views or just hear their perspective, and go from there.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t attempt to educate them — by all means, give them facts, links to reported stories, etc. — but you’ll only become increasingly frustrated if your goal is to change their views by the end of a conversation. Expect that if their views will change, it will take time and lots of it (and even then, facts can only accomplish so much). On the reverse, expect that you might learn something, too, whether it’s true or something false you can dispute later.
Don’t make it personal, and find the right setting
We get it. When you’re dealing with someone whose opinions are so far from your own, it’s all too easy to become frustrated and want to resort to personal insults (or defer to an occasional expletive). Don’t do it.
Using personal attacks might only cloud that person’s ability to absorb any facts you’re expressing. “You don’t have to validate someone else’s content that you may find inconsistent with your values, but you do need to at least validate their ability to share their feelings and willingness to be open,” Vaile Wright, a psychologist, writes for Vox. “That is how you move a conversation forward if it ends up that you do not agree with their opinions.”
If you’re rooting for different Democratic presidential candidates, for example, one way to accomplish this is not to throw an insult at the candidates themselves or you might risk your friend feeling personally offended. Instead, express your position on an issue that you disagree with that candidate on.
And find the right setting. Having a conversation about politics in the office versus at happy hour might reap different repercussions, so choose wisely. If you think the latter might call for more personal attacks, fuelled by alcohol and adrenaline, then avoid it at all costs.
Understand your own boundaries
Of course, a discussion about politics with those who believe in opposite ideologies than your own is walking a fine line — and sometimes, it may not feel like it’s worth the effort of launching into a tense conversation with little reward.
“I have some friends I have great debates with, even if we fundamentally disagree with each other,” u/clipot writes on a Reddit thread.
“I have other friends with strong opinions who I never would enter debates with. I think it boils down to those who is interested in discussions and are confident enough to defend their view and those who are only interested in confirming their view and are afraid of having to defend it.”
But you should also understand that when someone disagrees with you politically, you may not have to end a friendship, though sometimes, you’re better off anyway. Every person is entitled to their boundaries and you should not feel compelled to sacrifice yours to maintain a friendship. What kind of boundaries exactly?
Well, if your friend’s political views infringe upon basic human rights, like, say, the rights of undocumented immigrants to freedom outside of detention centres, the rights of LGBTQ employees to discrimination protections in the workplace or actual disbelief in the existence of manmade climate change, then say your peace and find your exit (Here’s our guide on how to dump a friend the right way.)
As our video producer Joel suggests, when in need of a quick escape during a tense conversation involving politics, just bring up something you can all agree is ridiculous. “Can you believe this bullshit about [insert your topic of choice here]?” he suggests as a segue — and soon you’ll be afforded a swift opportunity to leave without so much as another word.