When you are reading this, it will be ten days before the midterm elections. Whichever party you affiliate with, or even none, the last several months have seen social media, print media and our TV screens full of references to the “most important election in our lifetime.” I hear from my friends and patients that friendships and relationships are affected by the political atmosphere to an incredible extent. So how are you dealing with it?

Friends have declared that a person supporting the “other” party is a deal breaker for dating. Couples have ended up with horrible arguments. Families have resorted to rules when they get together for a celebration dinner that this topic will not be touched upon. How did we get to this level of tribalism and emotional intensity? I am not even getting into larger societal issues as the rise in hate crimes, the calls to the police for ridiculous reasons, and the intolerance of portions of the country for minority groups.

There are analyses of global factors, demographic changes and other elements that may have brought us to this point. But I am focusing on how we, each of us, can deal with those we care about, those in our orbit. The Dalai Lama says: “When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” Therein may lie the key to how we end up with conflicts that shatter connections that were made long time ago. Once you label someone, the brain uses it as a shortcut to make judgments and guides to your behavior. If I think of you as a rival, my words and actions will reflect the emotions attached to competitiveness at the very least and may go as far as containing hostility. And if one person takes that stance, it is difficult for the other not to reciprocate. How to break the cycle?

Our psyche likes to feel confirmed, to hear viewpoints that reinforce ours, and to maintain consistency. So, when someone, and especially someone we care about, offers a contradictory or conflicting thought, the emotional center could very well interpret that as breaking the bond between us. In other words, if you loved me, you would not disagree with me. In a lot of families, children are brought up that way. On the other hand, there are families where daily arguments are the norm so one grows up adopting this behavior which then evolves into: I disagree with you and will object to your opinion because I love you. Put the two together and you have a huge problem!

So, think of why you expect agreement. Think of why you practice disagreement. Then try separating this verbal behavior from the emotional connections you have. None of us is right all the time and being challenged in a respectful way is good for the brain cells. Listen to your partner. Ask for an explanation of the opinion. Receive it or give with a positive mood. Going back to the Dalai Lama: “The ultimate source of our happiness is our mental attitude.”

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Author Profile

Janan Broadbent, PhD
Janan Broadbent, PhD
As a psychologist in private practice since 1979, Janan Broadbent, Ph. D. offers individual, couples, group and family therapy, in addition to conducting workshops on topics such as stress management, communication skills and assertiveness. She writes about current issues relevant to relationship building and conflict resolution in LGBTQ and minority populations, with emphasis on health, fitness and education.

Born in Turkey, Dr. Broadbent earned her undergraduate degree in psychology in 1965. At that time, first as a Fulbright Scholar, then as a CENTO Fellow, she received her master's and doctorate degrees in psychology and education from the University of California at Los Angeles. She has taught graduate and undergraduate courses in psychology at St.Mary's College of Maryland, Mt. Vernon College in Washington, D. C., Johns Hopkins University and the College of Notre Dame in Baltimore. From 1981 to 1988, she was also the Director of Counseling at Notre Dame College.
While in graduate school, Dr. Broadbent worked for the Voice of America radio program, writing and recording materials on the cross-cultural college experience. She has been interviewed on various news programs on TV and has received media training.
Dr. Broadbent is a member of the American Psychological Association and has served as the chair for the Public Affairs Board and as a member of the Executive Council of the Maryland Psychological Association.
Dr. Broadbent's office is located at:
Village of Cross Keys, 120 West Quadrangle, 2 Hamill Road, Baltimore, Maryland 21210-1847 phone: 410-825-5577