49

Me and my girlfriend (both in our early 20s) disagree a lot on various political issues in and out of our country, and those disagreements cause her a lot of grief as she is a very sensitive person and the beliefs she holds are, while important to her, hard for her to defend in an argument, which makes her very sad and upset, and she's been in a bad mood a lot lately caused by other aspects of her life, and this situation only worsens it as far as I'm aware.

We've been together for almost a year and through a lot, we love each other dearly, but such things are making us quarrel and that's no good to either one of us.

I cannot change my opinion on the issues being discussed as that would go against the core of my person, nor can I just pretend I agree, as she can see through that.

Not having these conversations is an approach we've been trying so far, however, that turns out to be impossible when discussing world news and events in everyday conversation.

Edit: I've received a very good answer that captures the essence of the question perfectly, though the close votes seem to indicate it is still not understood as well as it could be. What I wanted to know is what behaviour during a discussion of a political topic where both of us have strong opinions on the subject will ensure that the discussion does not deteriorate into an argument, considering above-average sensitivity of the one of us, and the unlikeliness of our opinions changing, perhaps even allowing us to be brought closer together by our slight differences and help us understand the other's point while not necessarily starting a debate.

87

First off, you don't have to change your opinions and neither does she. I think you understood that already.

Now, onto the question

Now, what I want to know is how should I behave during a discussion on a political topic in a way that will not hurt her feelings and get my point across

Many people have trouble voicing their political opinions in a civil manner (It's a major problem across stackexchange if you ask me.), so reassure yourself. You are not alone.

I imagine conversations about politics usually start with something like this :

Political related thing comes up on TV

X : How horrible is that man/thing! Can you believe that?

Y : Actually, I kinda agree with that man/thing

X : Whaaat l? But... 'Start arguments'

X was seeking validation from Y, when Y responded with an unexpected disagreement. X is dumbfounded and starts an argument/debate.

Such a surprise can be pretty hard to take, especially when it's coming from your SO.

If you are in Y position, even if you do not share the belief of X, you can still validate her feelings. You can even start a healthy debate, if you want to, by using something like this:

Y : I got you. What do you think should be done? / Do you want to talk about it?

It acknowledges their opinion and gives them a chance to explain their feelings or ideas further. Do not express your own opinion or challenge X's arguments at this stage. Make it about them not about the topic.

After that, if the other person is willing to discuss, they will try to explain their point. Keep in mind, they probably didn't have time to think it through so their arguments may be a bit strange or convoluted.

X : It's because, y'know, he has been doing that and this. It didn't work. Plus it's really an inhumane way to act...

For the rest of the discussion, instead of challenging the person, help them to rephrase their arguments and build on them. Even if you disagree. In fact, especially if you disagree. Taking the point of view of the other is a very good skill and will help you understand what the person wants/fears/thinks/feels.

You can do so by using statements like this:

Y : Ah I see, would you prefer if that other thing was done? I heard people talk about it.

What's important is not to assume things, ask them away.

Body language and manners can also help, don't try and speak over them, silently listen and look at them in the eyes, nod as they talk (nodding means that you understand what they are saying in that context).

Talk however long the other person want to talk; if the conversation starts to die down, that's fine. If you never get to voice your opinion, that's fine. You never said that you agreed anyway. You validated their feelings.

If they ask you about your opinion during the track of the discussion, you can voice it, but use all the information you have acquired to phrase your disagreement, and accompany it with points that you agree on. But no argument is needed at this point.

X : What's your thoughts on that thing?

Y : While I agree on the other thing, I feel like that thing is less a problem than people say it is.

Use "I" statements; you are not conveying the absolute truth. You are voicing your thoughts, concerns, opinions, or fears.

I hope this helped a bit. I found this article which I think can be helpful.

Best of luck.

41

Seek out common underlying values

Oftentimes, disagreements in politics are really matters of common values with two opposed solutions. Consider this argument:

A: The poor people in our community need money through welfare to help make ends meet.

B: That will just make them lazy and keep them in poverty. We should limit the amount of welfare to encourage them to get well-paying jobs.

What isn’t being talked about here is that both A and B have a shared underlying value: they both want to help the poor. The disagreement is over the most effective way to do that. If A and B were to focus on their shared goal, then would be able to spend more time agreeing and less time arguing.

Ask for reasons why; don’t assume

I’ve seen this a lot in the United States after the very heated 2016 presidential election. Here is a bad conversation:

A: I voted for Trump.

B: How could you vote for that racist, bigoted idiot?!

A: Well, who did you vote for?

B: I voted for Hillary.

A: How could you vote for that morally bankrupt, elitist candidate?!

A better way is to always ask for reasons and not assume. They may have very good reasons that may surprise you.

A: I voted for Trump.

B: What were your reasons?

A: My family are all blue collar workers. I feel strongly about the difficulties they have in being able to put food on the table. While Trump is far from an ideal candidate, I think he is their best shot for making ends meet. Who did you vote for and why?

B: I voted for Hillary. I feel strongly about the causes of minorities, and especially immigrants, like that of the friends I grew up with. I think that they will have the best chance of a happy, stable life if Hillary is elected.

Note that A didn’t vote for Trump because he was bigoted and B didn’t vote for Hillary because she was morally bankrupt or elitist. They both had other reasons that were far different than the reasons the other assumed. In fact, they may find understanding on that B sympathizes with the financial difficulties of A’s family and A sympathizes with the social difficulties of B’s lifelong friends.

Invite them to share what they don’t like about their candidate or cause, and do the same

This goes back to the stereotypes and assumptions you have about negative traits. You may find that you are in agreement about a number of things.

B: You’re a Trump supporter. What don’t you like about him?

A: He’s bigoted, especially towards immigrants. I hate that!

B: Really?! I was afraid that you were supportive of him restricting rights to people like my friends.

A: You supported Hillary. What don’t you like about her?

B: I think she shows too little concern over the difficulties of rural, blue collar workers.

A: Really?! I was afraid you were deaf to the concerns about people like my family!

To both A and B’s surprise, the other wasn’t in support of their candidate because of their negative traits, but in fact they both despised the two candidates for the same reasons and discovered shared common values, despite ultimately picking different candidates.

This can also apply for causes too.

A: I am supportive of anti-abortion efforts, but I don't like how organizations promoting that provide little financial support to poor women who choose to keep their child.

B: I am supportive of LGBT rights, but I don't like how organizations advocating that can often be hostile to others who don't fully support their views yet are still aid the cause (such as religious groups that do not support homosexuality, yet host homeless shelters that are lifesaving to LGBT homeless youth).

In this case, both A and B have found common ground in wanting to find ways to better serve the disenfranchised in their society in order to solve the underlying problems affecting the causes they are passionate about.

Note that this is not an opportunity to find weaknesses in their arguments. The absolute wrong thing thing to say would be "well, if you don't like X about your cause/candidate, how can you possibly support them?" Doing that violates the trust and openness that you have created and will lead to closing down and hurt feelings.

Don’t go on the offensive

So now you’ve identified the other’s reasons and disproved the stereotypes and fears you had by taking the time to understand their point of view (You did do that right? It’s a critical step!) Now it’s time to convince the other person that your point of view is more valid, right?

Wrong! Going on the offensive is likely to cause more hurt feelings and not change others minds.

A: I feel strongly about anti-abortion efforts.

B: I feel strongly about LGBT rights.

A and B: My cause is more important!

It’s very unlikely that either side will change their mind, even if they agree that both causes are important. Going on the offensive will only cause hurt feelings. Again, seeking to understand each other is the better solution.

B: Why do you feel so strongly about anti-abortion causes?

A: It’s because […] Why do you feel strongly about LGBT rights?

B: It’s because […]

A: While I still think that anti-abortion causes are more important, I’m glad to better understand your position.

B: Same for me.

Here’s a good rule of thumb: if you don’t think there is a chance that you will change your point of view, don’t expect the other to do it.

Also, consider that the other person may change their view over time, rather than instantly. Multiple sessions of constructive, sympathetic conversation are more likely to be successful than a one time heated debate.

Your goal is to have a relationship, not to win political debates

Also known as: you’re in a relationship with this person, not a candidate or cause.

The other person is more than just the sum of their political values. You started the relationship for reasons aside from politics. Maybe it was shared interests or other shared values. Are these more important to you than which candidate they checked on the voting ballot?

To give a bit from my own background, my parents are diametrically opposed politically. They are of opposite parties on the political spectrum and disagree on a number of issues. But they’ve just celebrated 33 years of marriage thanks to focusing on all the other things they have in common: shared values unrelated to politics (such as their religious faith), shared interests, and a genuine love for each other as a person. They married each other, not Trump or Hillary.

Do they have disagreements? Sometimes. But ultimately they know that their goal is to be in a relationship with each other and not to win political debates.

For them, that also means not talking politics often (they had a rule to never have political debates in front of kids). But they firmly believe that their marriage is more important than having those debates. And that is an example I seek to follow.

Further Resources: Better Angels

The techniques listed above are used extensively by Better Angels, an organization built around bridging the political divide in the United States. From their website:

Launched in 2016, Better Angels is a bipartisan citizen’s movement to unify our divided nation. By bringing red [right-leaning, commonly Republican] and blue [left-leaning, commonly Democrat] Americans together into a working alliance, we’re building new ways to talk to one another, participate together in public life, and influence the direction of the nation.

The organization has articles, podcast, videos, and even live sessions aimed at creating understanding between those on opposing ends of the political spectrum. In other words, they resolve the exact same conflicts that you are trying to resolve, but on a much larger scale.

Even if you aren't in the United States, the resources that Better Angels provides can teach you about useful techniques and advice that can help you solve the conflicts between your girlfriend and any others you find at odds with politically.

7

Put simply the issue is not the political opinion but insecurity around change or challenging the position.

To free up the situation is to get your girlfriend to talk through why she feels so strongly about her positions. You can then introduce the idea that these feelings are common in lots of situations, and are not linked to the opinions but ones own identity and experiences.

I have met terrorists who fervently hated their enemies, because their enemies where the devil on earth. Equally I have met their victims who felt equally as bad about the terrorists. The trauma that created these positions was why they felt as they did, which was a healthy response, but its focus needed educating. The truth was political groups manipulated the trauma to blame a group as the cause of everything "wrong" in the system. Until you can start to separate the two, you will forever be trapped in the cycle of blind emotion.

Another example of this hatred stirring was in the Balkan civil war. Some mercenaries knew they needed to stir up hatred so they planted a bomb in their own sides part of the city and blew it up, claiming it was the callous work of their enemy. It worked and raised the conflict even higher. Becoming a victim of political motivators like this is dangerous, but we must take ownership of the truth, and bring a view of what really works.

Seeing behind the headlines, behind idiologies to meet people and their experiences and emotional reactions, opens ones eyes. Unfortunately politically they can be opposites which seems a contradiction, but is just an example of how experiences and individuals shape who we are.

3

I like politics debates, so I usually start or participate in them with many people, so I have a little experience debating with many types of people. I have learnt one thing:

People that seems to have very different ideologies may agree in many things if they are not related to a political party. I mean, people tend to defend the party they feel closer to them, and tend to attack everything that they feel related to the opposite party. But if you manage to speak about real problems, solutions to these problems, etc. but ignore stuff about political parties around it, debates are more productive and less aggressive. This ends when someone then tries to use the agreement they have reached to prove that his party was right.

And I don't know why, but people tend to be more aggressive and to feel attacked when speaking about politics than when speaking about other topics, even if they are not very interested in politics and even if the other topics have a bigger effect on their daily life. It's a fanaticism created by affinities to political parties that I can't understand.

I seriously recommend to avoid engaging in a debate with people you love if you never agree and always end up fighting and feeling bad. You probably are getting nowhere and hurting your relationship. You say that this hasn't worked, so you can try to avoid political parties and politician-related topics, and debate only about problems and solutions. Have a talk with your girlfriend requesting to do this. If it works, great!

In the case you are already doing this, and debates about problems itself are what are creating this situation, I suggest this:

  • Don't try to win the debate. People passionate about politics (like me) usually try to win the debate and doesn't stop until achieving it. In many cases we do this unconsciously.
  • Just listen to her and then explain your position, but not to convince her, just to tell it. When both of you feel that you already have explained your point of view, finish the debate.
  • Help her to feel better helping her to explain better her point. Ask things, request clarifications, etc in a way that makes clear that you want to understand her, not to refute her (this is also good for the debate)
  • Show her that you have understood her point of view and show her that, even if you don't agree, she has made a good point and her opinion is valuable

Hopefully, this way at least you will avoid discussions and you will help your girlfriend to gain some confidence.

0

I have found the Socratic method to be efficient at not escalating discussions while also not agreeing with the the others and learning more about their positions.

Usually after a couple of exchanges (or sometimes many more) you find something the other person can't justify and this is a natural ending for the discussion (assumptions aren't ever up for debate. Just don't). Or maybe the other persons turns the game around and you are suddenly the one trying to answer their curious questions until you can't anymore.

If you are angry it's easy though to formulate questions which are also attacks and tempting to abandon the Socratic method (which is inherently calm). To avoid the former it's useful to keep the questions extremely simple and short and work your way through the topic slowly. You may need to repeatedly remind the other person that you ask basic questions not because you think they are stupid but because you are trying not to assume anything about their positions. To avoid the latter, it's usually enough to be aware of the fact that you don't want to abandon it.

Of course it's still easily possible to insult the other, but this method is a good starting point I think.

  • While the Socratic Method can be very useful teachimg method to get another person to examine their viewpoint, I’m concerned that it won’t create understanding between the two. OP stated that his girlfriend gets frustrated when she feels she can’t defend her point of view, which is likely to be a result here. Also, unless his girlfriend can effectively use the Socratic Method, this is going to be one-sided and his girlfriend will be no closer to understanding his point of view. Are there any ways you think you can avoid those issues? – Thunderforge Apr 28 '18 at 13:11
  • @Thunderforge Well, if OP can find some more basic thing she can't rationally explain than the one they started with and then just stops the discussion along the lines of "This is ok, everyone has feelings/premises and I'm not trying to take them away from you. Or if you notice later that it's not a premise at all, please tell me about it. :)" And the Socratic Method is not difficult, if they just agree to question each other about their beliefs (in the sense of learning for oneself, not of posing difficult questions) instead of arguing they are already using it. – Nobody Apr 28 '18 at 18:31
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    Of course you can also be pretty nasty while using the Socratic Method, don't do that. – Nobody Apr 28 '18 at 18:32
0

Since this is bordering "relationship advice", some additional things to consider:

You don't have to be 100% right 100% of the time.

If one of you can recognize that you or the other person is emotionally agitated the best first course of action is to eliminate from the debate the topic that is causing the agitation. Come back to it later to see if positions/feelings/biases have changed, but don't press the issue if it's not the basis for other arguments.

Take it back to basics.

When my wife and I first met we had a political talk about our beliefs on "basic American freedom", "Right to Self and Property" and how "legal precedent" is often used as the basis for future, federal lawmaking. I avoided discussing party affiliations and labels, focused political subjects like healthcare and abortion. We found that we fundamentally agreed that American Rights and Constitutional Law is what makes America great..

..but then on specific positions like healthcare and abortion we fundamentally disagreed, and my wife and I also aligned ourselves with different parties.

As a result, I only ever discuss "specific positions" in terms of "Right to Self and Property" and usually the discussions turn out well. I suppose the suggestion here is to find a "common ground" that you two do agree on that may help you or they reform their biases, or at least find governing policy that you can both agree upon.

If you find you truly carry different beliefs and-also discussing these beliefs always ends in confrontational or combative discussion, then this may be an indication that one or both of you are unwilling to change. If this is a fundamental disagreement between the two of you then you may also need to evaluate if remaining with this person is in your best interests (yours and separately theirs, it is not like ignoring a difference in religious opinion, political leanings tend to reflect how we make life decisions. Thus, these differences can affect your relationship, marriage, the raising of children, shared financial decisions, where to work, deciding where to live, even how to live, and the list goes on) -- at the ripe old age of 20-something none of this will be a concern of course, but it should be.. This is why I would brazenly start a political debate on every first date, "politically inept" is a deal-breaker.

Improve your argument by understanding the position more thoroughly.

You could also start a Q&A on the politics exchange for whatever subject(s) that caused you to agitate your significant other.

Focus on any arguments that seem to share the same basis as your girlfriends to understand their position better. If you can find winning points in a debate with others, you may find them useful when discussing the subject with your girlfriend in the future.

This also has the upside of allowing you to hone your argument without pissing off your girlfriend :)

Good luck!

0

I am going to venture a guess that you and your girlfriend are not arguing over whether a small government surplus should be spent on increasing the pay of school teachers or sanitation workers, or about the merit of a proposed change in zoning regulations, or whether a new federal office building should be built in your town, or a larger city near by.

Politics around health care is literally life or death for many, many people. Do you think your girlfriend should get treatment if her pregnancy is killing her? That's a political question. Political issues are personal for many, many people. And not because they are political junkies looking to over-identify with something abstract that has no real world consequences, but because people literally live and die based on political decisions.

So when you say she is sad because you don't agree with her political views...well, maybe she is sad because you don't agree with "Our blood, our soil", or maybe she is sad because you do. If you won't give even a hint of what you are arguing over, both scenarios are possible.

-3

The beginning of this answer will help the OP understand the dynamics of the problem, which will assist in the solution to the problem. I have been objective in my analysis. Although, each person takes away from it according to his/her experience.

Observations I've made through years of experience and my insight into the human condition make intuitively obvious to me some of the principles I use.

The object of the mind is truth, because truth will set you free. What was truth is truth now, and it always will be truth. There is one truth. Everything else is wrong. If one thinks about it, does anyone want to be deceived? No one wants to be deceived! We all want to know the truth! What part of us wants to know the truth? The mind! So, the object of the mind is truth.

Everyone is searching for the truth, because they want to be free of deceit. Political debating is a search for truth. Political beliefs that are untested on the battlefield of debate are weak and frail. Why are they weak and frail? Because they haven't been challenged. If I think the world is flat, and all my observations indicate this is true, but I've never been challenged in my belief, the belief is weak.

When any individual is presented with strong evidence proving their position on a political issue is incorrect, (s)he may react unpredictably, because political beliefs have become integral to his/her self-image. How does a political belief integrate itself into the self image? When political affiliation is made part of ones identity and brings self-esteem to the individual, it is part of the self-image.

When political affiliations become integral to the self-image, debate is no longer a search for truth, but the effort to preserve self worth and one's personal view of reality. Why is it no longer a search for truth? And why is political debate a search for truth? Truth is everything that is correct. Knowing the truth is essential for survival. Everything that ultimately reveals the road to life and happiness is truth. Why do people avoid things that will kill them? Because they know the things will kill them. That's truth at work.

How do we know that? Because no one would give up life and happiness without being deceived. Deceit is not truth. For instance, people who say they want to die actually want to be happy! They're deceived! Instead of finding ways to die, they should search for ways to be happy.

Political debate is for the purpose of discovering what will bring the greatest good to the greatest number of people. Then, what is 'good'? Good is everything which brings life and happiness. Curing illness is good. Death from illness is bad.

Your girlfriend might be emotionally invested in her political beliefs, so she cannot rationally evaluate them. I only say that because she has an emotional response to debate. Those who cannot rationally discuss political opinions are emotionally invested in them. Otherwise, being presented with different views wouldn't be emotionally upsetting.

In such instances, which are all too common in an age when many seek salvation through political affiliation rather than by religious means; when the ideal standard of conduct is reduced to the minimum legal requirement; there is no intrinsic 'right' or 'wrong'. Each person simply chooses what is true for him/herself, and everyone else simply respects it.

Therefore, all emotionally based political beliefs are equally correct or incorrect. Anyone can believe anything (s)he desires, because there is no objective measure of truth.

Government becomes the source of all good, the solution to all problems, the ultimate authority over everything: the new god! No one can rationally debate anything purely based on faith. And in truth, many political viewpoints have no basis in reason. I'm not aiming that at any particular person. But it's always a possibility.

Anyone is free to believe anything they want. If the belief is based on faith alone, without factual basis, revealing the truth may indict the belief as incorrect, and render the believer emotionally defensive and fragile.

The key is to find an alternative route to the source of political beliefs, which can be anything from latent rebellion against parental authority, misdirected anger at a former or current SO, justification of sin, rebellion against God, allegiance to a parent(s), love of truth, religious belief, hatred of humanity, justification of the sins of others, mistrust of government, rebellion against authority, fear of or affinity to masculinity, feminism, atheism, support or condemnation of certain behaviors, the desire to preserve liberty and/or a healthy economy, and many other motivations.

That is not an exhaustive list of possible motivations. So, let's say your girlfriend favors a ban on elective surgical abortion. The ultimate source of such a belief is religion. So, when I debate political beliefs, I am always on the lookout for tells that a certain belief is rooted in something non-political.

Sometimes it's best to simply affirm others in their political beliefs, no matter how incorrect you think they are, because that will produce the confidence necessary for the other person to even consider other options. If your girlfriend knows that you accept her just the way she is, she'll be more willing to accept your point of view.

She wants to know how much you care before she cares how much you know.

By uncovering the hidden motivations your girlfriend has for believing a certain way, you will be able to discover the source of her emotional pain exhibited during casual political debate, and help her heal.

  • I find this answer a bit overly pendantic, like it was suggesting that OP's girlfriend must have 'wrong' opinions/beliefs. Furthermore, it seems to follow somewhat of an agenda. Suggesting that 'rebellion against god' might be the source of flawed political beliefs. – Dastardly Apr 30 '18 at 10:58
  • 6
    You're making a lot of statements in this answer that could benefit from backing them up with e.g. sources ('the object of the mind is truth', 'everyone is searching for the truth' 'political images may become integral to self-image', to name a few). Do you have any experience or sources showing that this may be an emotional thing for the girlfriend, and that treating it the way you're suggesting will better the situation? – Tinkeringbell Apr 30 '18 at 12:04

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