One thing after another has filled up our plate this year, many of them negative. The pandemic, polarized elections, online schooling, and working at home have made it a difficult year. In just a few days, the election will be over. We are all going to breathe a sigh of relief that at least one thing is off of our plate.
Beliefs and emotions are fuel to politics. This election has been very polarized. Understanding the underpinnings of polarization is intriguing and it can change your life.
Psychologist Jonathan Haidt describes how six values determine our political category. These values are:
- Care for Others/Do no harm
- In-Group Loyalty
- Respect for Authority
Humans have all six values, but different groups focus on and prioritize these values in different ways. Haidt explains that these values are like a tongue: we all have the same taste buds, but some taste buds are more pronounced than others, and the same things don’t taste the same way to all of us. His research shows that Conservatives tend focus on all six values relatively equally; Liberals focus primarily on the values of Care/Harm and Fairness/Justice/Equality; and Libertarians are mostly concerned with the Freedom value.
In our offices, we often observe polarization between partners. As an example, consider the following scenario:
A partner that is paying more attention to the value of Freedom may say, He wants me to call if plans change, and I feel like a child asking permission. Their partner, who places a high priority on Fairness, may respond, I call when my plans change, so I expect the same. Both viewpoints are valid positions based on the values on which each partner is focused.
So what does this mean for you?
As marriage and family therapists we support you in processing your thoughts and emotions, gather both perspectives, and work to find common ground. It is likely that your partner is operating from a different perspective or using different values than yours when looking at the issue. Dialoguing about things, without expectation of agreement, is fundamental to a healthy relationship. If some agreement happens then that is icing on the cake.
Is this possible?
This is a question I get often. Can we bridge the gap when we are so distant or when we fight so much? Most likely, the answer is yes. The research of the world renowned couples therapist, John Gottman, seems to indicate that dialoguing heals relationships. However, since we are talking about politics, I need to share an exciting study with you. America in One Room is an experiment where 523 Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, from all over the USA, came together to discuss five political topics (immigration, health care, foreign policy, taxes/economy, and the environment). After four days of discussion, researchers found that participants became less extreme in their political beliefs — they became less polarized and started to find common ground in their perspectives. So, conversation can move willing participants from an extreme position to a more centralized/common one.
This is valuable to relationships. A disagreement is more about underlying beliefs and emotions than it seems. Political parties do not love each other. Yet, the America in One Room study is encouraging to couples. If people who don’t love each other can find common ground, imagine what lovers can find.
Sabrina Bowen, MS, LCMFT, provides couple, family, and individual therapy in our downtown Bethesda office, and online to those located in Maryland. Call or email today to set up your first appointment or a complimentary consultation with Sabrina!