The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Health & Family

September 27, 2012

Political arguments like any other family fight

JOPLIN, Mo. — Now that we’re in the homestretch of the election season, the volume is going to get louder. The mudslinging and name-calling will escalate, not only from the candidates, but also from their supporters and the cable news networks.

Those fights can even happen at home. After all, voters have families, too, and it’s possible that not everyone in a particular family views politics the same way.

Are families destined to argue until after Election Day? Joplin family counselors say no, not quite -- there are easy ways to make sure that families stay together, even though they vote apart.

“When you’re in a family, most everyone knows what the politics are already,” said Dr. Doug Brooks, a psychologist with Behavior Management Associates. “There’s probably no serious disruption from differing political views.”

Families in transition face the biggest risk of political power struggles, Brooks said, explaining that new families might have problems as in-laws get to know each other.

But for the most part, politics are only one of a handful of issues that families face, he said. In fact, both Brooks and Adrea Hobbs, a licensed professional counselor with Healing the Family Center, said they have never worked with a family who came in because of political disagreements.

“I know politics come up with a family,” Hobbs said. “I work with a lot of people having other types of challenges, though.”

That leads to the first way families can keep political bickering to a minimum: Remember that it’s just another subject of argument. And if a family can’t discuss it without getting angry, it shouldn’t discuss it at all -- just like any other issue.

“Just like a family budget, political belief systems could become part of a family conflict,” Brooks said. “We get more emotional about things such as politics, so it might have more of an impact on the negativity of interaction around it.”

Sometimes arguments happens just for the sake of argument, Hobbs said. She said that someone in her own family would always take the opposite side of a discussion -- she’d hear them speak passionately about one side, then talk about the same issue with someone else and take the opposite position.

So if family members really want to discuss issues and hash them out, Hobbs recommends setting ground rules.

“Set aside a certain amount of time for one to talk, and the others have to listen,” Hobbs said. “Don’t raise voices and don’t use put-down words.”

Brooks said to look out for red flags that would indicate someone is starting to take a discussion much more seriously than everyone else.

“Voices take on an edge, and there are other cues that tell you people are getting intense and likely to escalate with anger,” Brooks said. “If you spot that, stop and say, ‘things aren’t going anywhere good.’”

If these tips sound familiar, it’s because they are the same strategies used to address any family conflict, Brooks said. Because a political argument is really just another type of fight.

So treat political disagreements as intellectual exercises, and nothing more, Brooks recommends.

Hobbs said a sense of humor helps, as well.

“We have more fun (in my family) with our discussions, and do a lot more humor,” Hobbs said. “If you can laugh about things, it helps a lot.”

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