Family Dynamics in This Election Year

April 17, 2024
Emotions are high this election season. How can we improve communication and foster family relationships during a divisive election year?

Ellen Miley Perry

“I cannot believe my brother plans to vote for him!” As we approach yet another contentious election, you can hear some version of this exasperation repeated by countless families across the country. “Oh no, here we go again!”

No matter on which side of this political divide you sit, and even if you consider yourself someone who tries to “stay out of it,” you are likely to have family members who sit on opposite sides of the divide. The stakes feel very high, and the stress, fear, and anxieties we are experiencing are real and prolonged.

How, then, will we manage our family relationships with those who plan to vote differently this year? How will we hold our family together as we navigate this intense election season?

We have some suggestions:

  • You are highly unlikely to change the minds, or the votes, of family members who support a different candidate than you do, any more than they are likely to change your vote – so don’t try. Assume that we all come to our positions and beliefs through meaningful and varied life experiences. Let me stress that again. It is unlikely either of you will change your votes based on a conversation or argument with a family member.
  • Remember that the emotion underneath anger is most often fear. Many people who are outraged in this moment, and in this election season, are afraid. That knowledge might help you keep your own calm in difficult conversations.
  • Respect different opinions, even when it is very, very hard.
  • Feel free to discuss the issues in this election if emotions are not high, but try to listen more than you speak. Ask questions. Seek to understand the “whys” of the other person’s vote. What are the underlying beliefs and experiences that drive their decision-making?
  • Don’t make (or share) personal judgments about your family members. You’ll never have their whole story, nor will they have yours.
  • If the conversation gets angry and personal, stop. Declare that the relationship is more important than this election. Attempt to redirect the heated and unproductive conversation to nonpolitical common interests. There are sometimes topics that are off-limits for good reason!
  • Don’t gang up. If two people are debating the issue, stay out of it. Don’t add your voice if it’s already hot. As mentioned in our first suggestion, you are unlikely to change anyone’s mind.
  • Help young adults respect the differences in the lived experiences of their elders, particularly grandparents. The young can have strong opinions that sometimes don’t fully consider the realities of their grandparents’ youth. Similarly, older adults should respect the opinions of the younger generation, who are growing up in a very different world than they did. Value civility in your family.
  • Try not to make the debate about a bigger or hotter issue like values or life choices. Stick with the issue at hand- don’t escalate it for the purposes of making bigger harder points.
  • Don’t forget that we are in an already difficult time because of the many unsettling national and global events in our lives. People are feeling anxious and uncertain about many things. Try to lean more toward tenderness than judgment.

At BBH, we have experience helping families navigate complicated conversations and relationships. Please reach out if we can be helpful.

Contact Us

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