How to Handle Political Disagreements

A therapist offers advice on having political discussions with friends, family, and significant others without losing your cool.

Last updated: Dec 28th, 2022
How to handle political disagreements

Long-standing etiquette once proposed that people should never talk about politics. But times have changed, and the past few years have thrust politics into the spotlight, influencing nearly every decision we make.

Agreeing to disagree isn’t as easy as it sounds. Moreover, some people don’t believe it even needs to be an option. Research has shown that one in 10 couples (and 22% of younger millennials) have ended their relationships due to political incompatibilities.

That said, you will inevitably approach some people or situations that call for you to be civil. Choosing the best strategy when it comes to political disagreements isn’t easy. Read our guide to find out what you can do.

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With romantic partners

Love is complicated, and when it comes to politics, things often become even murkier. For this reason, more and more people simply choose to date someone who aligns with them politically.

In fact, a recent 2020 poll indicated that 45% of single people would not date someone who supports the opposing political party. An overwhelming 86% of respondents stated that it’s become more difficult to date someone with differing political views.

With that in mind, here are some tips for assessing and managing potential disagreements:

Give the benefit of the doubt

Even if you don’t necessarily like your partner’s political preferences, aim to come from a stance that they have good intentions. After all, you have chosen to date them. So it’s important to accept that they are entitled to their own opinion.

Embrace being curious

Even if you feel resistant, try to learn how and why your partner has formulated their beliefs. What life circumstances led them to think this way? Try to set aside your own preconceived assumptions. Remember that there are pros and cons to every political ideology.

Identify and commit to your shared values

Politics aside, what keeps you in a relationship with this person? What common goals are you working toward? How can you still love and support one another despite your differences? Answering these questions could help you find shared values that help preserve the relationship.

Fight fairly and equitably

If you disagree about politics, aim to be respectful and mature. Use I-statements to assert your feelings. For example, you might say, “I felt frustrated when you said Democrats were too soft” or “I felt angry when you accused him of being racist because he voted for a Republican candidate.” I-statements assume personal responsibility without projecting or attacking someone else. Consider visiting a relationship counselor to help you navigate these discussions.

Consider your boundaries or deal-breakers

If you cannot accept how your partner votes or aligns politically, you may need to reevaluate your relationship. You are allowed to have specific boundaries; if you can’t resolve feeling resentful or contemptuous, it may be time to end things.

With family and friends

Political talk can quickly escalate and become a polarizing source of contention among families and friends. If this resonates with you, here are some tips to consider:

Know what triggers you

Maybe a certain family member really gets under your skin. Or perhaps talking about a specific issue always gets you feeling angry. Many of us have political hot buttons. Knowing yours can help you formulate a plan to manage your emotions without saying or doing something you later regret.

Model staying calm

Even if other people lose their cool, commit to maintaining a sense of peace. If you feel the need to become argumentative, take a few breaths or leave the room (or both). Avoid snarkiness, name-calling, and empty threats.

Have an open mind

You don’t need to change your worldview. But if you expect others to respect your beliefs, you should strive to model that yourself. That doesn’t mean automatically liking behavior that feels unacceptable. It does, however, mean trying to be civil and understand opposing perspectives.

Have an exit strategy

It’s perfectly reasonable to tell someone that you no longer want to discuss a certain issue. Know those limits for yourself and have a statement you can use if that time comes. It can be as simple as: I can feel myself getting worked up. Let’s discuss this at another time.

Stop talking about politics

If every family dinner ends in shouting, consider proposing a ground rule where people stop talking about politics. If this isn’t feasible (or desirable to you), think about reducing your interactions.

Without causing conflict

It’s one thing to be respectful to people who think and vote differently than you do. But it’s also important to consider how you can talk about controversial issues without arguing or trying to “be right.” Here are some strategies.

Be mindful of your intentions

When you talk about politics with someone who disagrees with you, do you want to prove them wrong? Do you want to show them why your way is “better?” If you come in with that mindset, you will likely be met with defensiveness. This cycle, of course, is the antidote to connection, and it does nothing to help change someone’s mind.

Ask thoughtful questions

Embrace a curious, open mindset in understanding why people think the way they do. Commit to understanding that there isn’t a right way to feel or behave.

Some questions to consider asking include:

  • What do you think I get wrong about your party?
  • What’s your biggest concern about my preferred candidate?
  • What makes you so passionate about that issue?
  • Even though we hold opposing views, what do you think we have in common right now?
  • What circumstances would lead you to vote differently?
  • What criteria do you use when choosing how to vote?
  • How can I learn more about (a certain candidate/political issue/voting stance) from you?

Practice active listening

When someone talks to you about their opposing opinions, don’t listen to talk or argue. Listen to connect. If you want someone to be willing to change their mind, you have to be ready to understand their feelings and needs.

Validate and acknowledge alternative points of view

It’s important to recognize how and why people think differently from you. You can validate their ideas by saying:

  • I can understand why you feel concerned about…
  • I hear that you really value…
  • It seems that you feel scared of…
  • I appreciate that you are so passionate about…
  • Given your current circumstances, it totally makes sense why you think…

Speak upon shared values

Remember that everyone generally wants to live a good life and that our backgrounds and upbringing shape how we think. You might have different views if you had experienced different life circumstances. Try to be mindful of that as you approach people who think differently than you.

Don’t try to change someone’s mind

No matter how passionate you feel about a specific issue, you won’t convince everyone to agree with you. If you struggle to accept this, consider reflecting on why that goal feels so significant.

Final thoughts

Political differences can create or exacerbate tension in even your best relationships. If you feel frustrated, try to focus on what you can control. You may not be able to change how someone thinks, but you can channel your energy into voting, volunteering, and activism.