What the Election Can Teach Us About Our Relationships

Group of millennials from different backgrounds sit and talk at coffee shopAlthough the presidential election may be over, the anxiety continues for many as they consider the future and scrutinize the events that led to present circumstances. These concerns are the themes of many conversations I am having with others, including friends, family, colleagues, and people in therapy. Thus, I decided to address this issue for others out there who might be grappling with similar thoughts.

No matter who you voted for—or even if you did not vote at all—there is much to be learned. Here are my top three lessons to come out of one of the most emotionally charged elections in anyone’s memory:

1. If you are shouting, you cannot listen.

Communication, or severe lack thereof, fueled a deep absence of understanding and empathy. Depending on what resonated with you, some candidates tapped into citizens’ deep fears and concerns, while others missed the mark. This led to many Americans feeling left out and unheard—at least until they voted. I think those who felt sidelined now have everyone’s attention.

The key takeaway for me is that there is no substitute for honest, clear, open communication, which involves active listening. For the next week, I encourage you to notice how often you are thinking of what you want to say next in a conversation rather than truly listening to what the other person is saying. Do you take a moment to digest what the other person is saying and consider their thoughts and feelings? Or do you react quickly, saying something defensive or inconsiderate of what was shared? Practice pausing, perhaps by taking a slow, deep breath after the other person is finished speaking to give yourself time to consider what was expressed.

2. Take a moment to consider how you speak about other people.

Hint: If you use the word “the” before any group of people, you are essentially objectifying them in some way and making any differences between you more pronounced.

From my work as a psychologist, working with people from a great variety of backgrounds in terms of race, ethnicity, religion, education, and sexual orientation, I can assure you that you have more in common with that “other” person than you might imagine. I encourage you to stop and consider your biases.

Additionally, people do not need a college degree to understand when they are being called stupid. Some of the most intelligent people I know did not go to college; various reasons exist for not attending college, from an inability to afford it to not needing the degree for a chosen profession. I wonder how people might have reacted if the media had used a more objective and less judgmental way to refer to those without a college degree instead of calling people “uneducated,” which connotes “stupid.”

From my work as a psychologist, working with people from a great variety of backgrounds in terms of race, ethnicity, religion, education, and sexual orientation, I can assure you that you have more in common with that “other” person than you might imagine. I encourage you to stop and consider your biases. If you are biased against a religious group, for example, see if you might be able to purposefully try to meet or get to know someone from that group to better understand their experiences and opinions.

3. If there is a cause that is near and dear to your heart, get involved in supporting it.

As people process the election results, many are reflecting on their purpose in life. People learned that simply observing others’ behavior or actions does not necessarily lead to desired outcomes. At this juncture, people can either take action or watch what happens next.

If you are not satisfied with the status quo, it might be time to find ways to engage in your community that support your values and beliefs. You may even improve your relationship with yourself when you do, as your actions and values may become more aligned. You might also deepen your relationships with others who share your perspectives and concerns.

Wherever you stand on the election and the candidates, I hope you will take time to consider the points I raised to improve your relationship with yourself and your relationships with others. If you stay in the present moment, rather than dwell in the past or fear for the future, you have the power to effect positive change regardless of your political views.

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Ashley Curiel, PsyD, GoodTherapy.org Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Daisy

    November 17th, 2016 at 9:15 AM

    I am willing to talk to anyone about the vote but I am not willing to engage in argument and hatred. I think that when we do that then the bad guys win, and not matter how much I shout at someone and tell them they are wrong that is never going to change their mind like a good intelligent discussion could. And that still might not even work but it is much better than arguing about things that I alone am not destined to change.

  • Dr. Ashley Curiel

    November 17th, 2016 at 5:38 PM

    Well said, Daisy. I completely agree. Thank you for reading and responding!

  • Lisa

    November 17th, 2016 at 10:29 AM

    I don’t think that you can judge a person based solely on who they voted for. They like all the rest of us must have had their own informed ( I hope ) reasons so who am I to question that?

  • Dr. Ashley Curiel

    November 17th, 2016 at 5:40 PM

    I agree. Thank you for your insights!

  • Reni C

    November 17th, 2016 at 10:49 PM

    Excellent article!

  • Dr. Ashley Curiel

    November 20th, 2016 at 6:38 PM

    Thank you for reading and providing such positive feedback!

  • Catherine

    November 18th, 2016 at 11:14 AM

    One would hope that after it is all said and done, and it is over then friendships and families can heal.

    I am not feeling that vibe so much this year. I think that this was one of those elections that was so contentious and so divisive that it will take some time for many of us to lick our wounds and get away from all of the negativity that it has caused.

    While I saw nothing wrong with posting things about my own POV without ever trashing the other side I know that I have still lost some friends over it, people that I might not have in my life again and in the end that makes me more than a little sad.

  • Dr. Ashley Curiel

    November 20th, 2016 at 6:44 PM

    Thank you for reading and sharing, Catherine. You are not alone in this scenario; sadly, I have heard many share similar stories of damaged relationships associated with the election. I wish you well as you try to heal any ruptures in relationships.

  • marcella

    November 19th, 2016 at 8:28 AM

    Seriously I think that there are people who are getting way too petty about all of this. So you voted for someone different and you have opposing ideas… big deal. This is the foundation that this country was created upon, for it to be fine to disagree with one another and yet our Republic still keeps going. I would much rather be able to have these kinds of disagreements than be afraid to speak my mind at all. There are millions of people all across the world who live in that kind of setting. Be thankful for what we have instead.

  • Dr. Ashley Curiel

    November 20th, 2016 at 6:47 PM

    Thank you for reading and sharing your reflections, Marcella. You highlight the critical importance of free speech, which is definitely one of our country’s core values.

  • myron

    November 20th, 2016 at 7:08 AM

    If you have true friends then this election doesn’t have to teach you one darn thing. So you disagree with each other about who to vote for. That should not end a relationship that has been very meaningful to you. It should encourage discussion, sure, but it does not have to be the end of something that was at one time a pretty special thing to you in your life. If it is the end of that, then maybe the two of you were not as close as you would have once assumed that you were.

  • Yuri

    November 21st, 2016 at 11:08 AM

    That friendships and politics often don’t mix too well together?

  • max

    November 22nd, 2016 at 7:49 AM

    I am guilty of doing all of the things that one probably shouldn’t do, talking about the absurdity of the fact of another person’s beliefs, and while I would get mad if they did this to me I thought that it was obscene if they would push back and do the same to me. I’ve been a little shallow that way, trying to do better

  • Clayton

    November 23rd, 2016 at 9:19 AM

    I have a few very close friends and I guess that the reason I haven’t felt any of this backlash that so many others are feeling and describing is because my people that I am usually around generally have to same points of view that I do. So really that works out well for all of us.

  • Ariel

    November 24th, 2016 at 7:25 AM

    I have heard friendship break up stories. And I am like what? Over the election? How could you have not known all along what someone you are supposedly close to felt about these types of issues?

  • Harrison

    November 25th, 2016 at 7:13 AM

    More than our specific relationships with each other I think that it can teach us a whole lot more about what the mood of the country is like right now. I think that it is very easy to see that the electorate as a whole was looking for someone to lead us who was anti establishment, more for the working people. Now why they thought that Trump was the voice for the working guy I’m not too sure, but I just think that the desire to have someone totally different and anti political in a way in that office is what drove that win.

    Unfortunately the democrats picked the wrong candidate. Had Biden or Sanders run, I think that they would have appealed to far more of the swing type voters and we would not even be having this Trump conversation right now.

  • gage

    November 27th, 2016 at 7:42 AM

    with all of the yelling and fighting going on these days it is hard to often hear above it

  • Rhonda

    November 28th, 2016 at 3:03 PM

    Possibly now more than ever if there is a cause near and dear to you this is the time to get involved.
    There is no better time than right now to do it, because if not now then when?

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