How to protect your relationship from political stress
Since the campaigning began last year, and especially since the results of the election, I’ve noticed that my clients are reporting more stress. In fact, it is becoming a nationwide epidemic with an informal name: Post Election Stress Disorder. But more concerning than increased worry or anger, my clients feel disoriented in their relationships. For the first time this week I had three separate calls for couple’s counseling specifically for political differences. One client is so worried about the issue he wanted a guarantee that his partner would not be able to guess my political position. Of course, my political opinions are completely irrelevant to any work I do with clients, but people feel like they are walking on eggshells and really need a safe place.
The bottom line is that many people, since the election, feel like they “don’t even know” people they have loved for years. We have been subjected to decisive and attacking language for months and we are all triggered to the point that we feel we can’t listen to any more of it. Yet, we can’t shut down or tune it out because our relationships are intricately intertwined and we fear we will loose our connections. Here are three crucial ways you can change your mind, save the stress and stay connected.
- This is about values and morals. Our values or morals define what we think is important and the right things to do. The reason that people feel disoriented right now about their partners is because we feel like their values and morals don’t match ours like we thought they did. This leads to a sense of disillusionment, betrayal and abandonment. Instead of arguing about HOW to express morals and values, talk about the morals and values themselves. If you can both remember, for example, that you value protecting children you can talk about that instead of Planned Parenthood funding. Better yet, volunteer to help kids directly by volunteering a local charity like Juliette’s House.
- Use your own language and make it inclusive. Please be very aware that politicians and their support teams KNOW what to say and when to get the biggest reaction possible. Campaigning is their job, and political social media has made that even more pervasive and persuasive in our daily lives. It is really easy to use catch phrases and judge people when we get sucked into group think. Stop using dismissive and demeaning words like “snowflake” and “Nazi” with each other – even if you are just describing other people or ideas. Using words like “we” and “together” and “common goal” can build and mend many of bridges. If you have an area where you strongly disagree with your partner, it may be wise to use inclusive language as you agree to not talk about that topic: many people disagree and still have very happy lives together. If it is hard to get started in this conversation, please consult a professional therapist to give you a nudge. Not talking at all will build resentment.
- Increase your positive experiences ASAP. We have long known intuitively that we must have more positive experiences than negative to make being in a relationship worth it. We also know this from the field of interpersonal psychology and even a Gallop review about the Magic Ratio of positive to negative interactions (the magic number is at least 3+ to 1-). However, with the increased political stress level I recommend you increase it to “fill the bucket”. I also recommend that your fun include activities that are outdoors and new to the both of you. That way you can get some fresh air and grow together.
We are in one of the most stressful political climates of our lifetime. Be proactive in insulating your relationship. Remember, neither Hillary Clinton, Bernie Saunders, Donald Trump or Paul Ryan is going to cuddle you at night, feed you when you’re sick or share that deep knowing look that feeds your soul. Your partner will.