Parents Talk Back

Matt McCain hasn’t felt the same about a close friend after reading what she posted about the Women’s March in D.C. two months ago. They used to talk about everything, and he had been a groomsman in her wedding five years ago.

McCain, who grew up in a small town in Texas but now lives in Austin, said he wasn’t upset by her political position, but rather by how she expressed it. He was surprised at how naive and closed-minded she came across. He hasn’t made an effort to see her since, doesn’t talk to her as much and feels uneasy toward her.

Many of us have had similar experiences lately. Part of the discomfort stems from being surprised by the views of someone we thought we knew well, or the disconcerting realization that your values differ radically from someone you care about.

We may have hoped that the country would be moving past the fractious politics that divided us so bitterly during the campaign. Instead, the wounds of this past election keep getting ripped open. President Donald Trump’s job approval rating has dropped to 37 percent, his worst since taking office two months ago, and 58 percent of Americans disapprove of his performance so far, according to a recent Gallup poll. His controversial proposals -- from the travel bans to repealing the Affordable Care Act to a budget that slashes funding for popular programs -- has elicited strong reactions. Sharing those reactions on social media has become one way for people to deal with unprecedented political circumstances.

As the environment gets more charged, it continues to test friendships and other relationships.

A friend recently asked a question on Facebook after seeing an offensive post from an acquaintance: When it comes to your friends’ beliefs, “is it better not to know?” She said she had previously tried challenging this casual friend’s misinformation, but gave up trying to talk to her after the latest post.

”I do miss the days when racists weren’t emboldened to express these views aloud,” she said.

McCain said even though one of his closest friendships has been tarnished, he would rather know what people in his life really think.

Those who are outliers in a politically homogenous family, neighborhood or city may opt to stay quiet about their views. But divisions can be extra painful in the most intimate relationships: spouses, parents and close friends.

These are not people you can mute, unfollow or de-friend with the click of a button.

In relationships that can’t be easily severed, many people deal with differences with good ol’ fashioned avoidance. This is the preferred approach in many families: Steer clear of any topics likely to create tension or conflict. But some who successfully used the avoidance strategy during the contentious campaign season say the tension has only been building since Election Day. One woman said she has avoided asking her husband of 30 years who he voted for. But his unwillingness to be critical of anything Trump has said or done has pushed her to the brink emotionally.

“There have never been two things harder to reconcile, ever,” she said. “This man I love, and this man I loathe. And both such a part of my daily life.”

Rachel D’Souza-Siebert of St. Louis says it’s important for her to know her close friends’ political beliefs in order to have authentic relationships. She describes herself as a liberal and has friends who are politically conservative.

“On some issues we agree and on some we don’t, but at the end of the day we respect each other,” she said. “That being said, I have had some friendships and relationships end over politics, and I’m OK with that.”

Kandi Gregory of St. Louis describes herself as a very conservative Christian, and has unfollowed some of her Facebook friends. But one of her closest friends in real life is a “very liberal Jewish lady.” She says they have had many discussions on issues ranging from abortion to religion.

“I think by listening to each other, it has opened me up to different things,” she said.

The keys to maintaining a relationship despite fundamental differences? Respect and a willingness to hear the other point of view.

Whether a person decides to confront, avoid or completely disengage from loved ones with different views, everyone who responded to the Facebook query -- about whether it’s better to know -- said that it was.

Maybe it’s best that some relationships fall apart when tested, because the foundation wasn’t as strong as we’d imagined.

Or perhaps being aware of the minefields helps us avoid explosions.

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