Stay connected to siblings when you hate their politics
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A blunt social media post, a slip on the family text thread, a reckless remark at a holiday celebration.
The slightest offense can break a sibling bond weakened by partisan opinions in these intensely political times. Beliefs are based on values ââand family foundations often crack around political cracks.
Stacy Washington, host of Stacy right on SiriusXM Patriot Channel 125, said many of his listeners suffered from estrangement due to divergent political views within the family.
She interviewed me on a recent show and asked me, ‘What should they do? “
Divergent political opinions as a risk factor for estrangement
For decades, I endured a bitter cut with my only brother. Meanwhile, the estrangement felt like chronic rejection and deep betrayal.
Remarkably, a chance to reconcile presented itself seven years ago and at that point I read all I could about how to move forward in our fragile relationship. However, I became frustrated that there weren’t many books on this under-researched topic.
So I decided to write the book I wanted to read. To find out what I could, I conducted a survey exploring the experiences of separated siblings. Interestingly, many respondents identified divergent political views as a common reason for a sibling split.
Here are some comments from the survey:
It all started after September 11 when my brother said he wanted to kill all Muslims. When Trump was elected, he stepped up his anti-democratic rhetoric. Recently, I had to part ways with him on Facebook when he posted âDeath to all Democratsâ.
The politics of the day – to vax or not to vax, to mask or not to mask, to educate at school or at home – stifles relationships in our family.
I couldn’t be my authentic self with my brother because we don’t agree politically on masks, vaccines and guns. I always avoided subjects, and ultimately we avoided each other.
Why siblings are important
Typically, siblings spend more time together than with anyone else; for the lucky ones, these relationships last for decades, often exceeding friendships and marriages. In childhood, siblings cultivate in each other the necessary social qualities – tolerance, generosity, loyalty – which ultimately shape adult relationships.
The basic human need to belong – whether through family, friendship, common interests, or sexual intimacy – comes right after the essentials: food and water, shelter and sleep, physical security. Like these fundamental principles, the human need to belong lasts a lifetime.
In the absence of a sense of belonging – a sense of emotional security and context – people come to fear that their lives are in danger. They lose the ability to trust and connect with others instead of being consumed with the task of surviving on their own. Family – that original constellation of relationships – offers an opportunity to belong to a group and a chance to develop deep bonds that can support us throughout life.
Even when estrangement is a lucid choice to close the door to unbearable discord, the cut leaves disconnected siblings stranded in shame. Over time, distant siblings lose their family identity that defines them: big brother or little sister, uncle or aunt, brother-in-law or sister-in-law. Their children are suffering the loss of an extended family, without even one or two cousins ââwith whom to whisper secrets, upset their parents and mark the milestones in life.
Rejection of siblings can also have devastating personal consequences, spilling over into many aspects of life and identity: it affects self-esteem – who you are and how you see yourself – your friendships and the like. social relationships, your well-being and your ability to trust, and your family members when choosing sides.
How to stay connected when family members find each other’s politics repulsive
Here is my advice for Stacy right listeners:
- Seek common ground in shared experiences and memories to overcome political differences.
- Avoid controversial topics. If you find your siblings’ policies offensive, limit or block social media accounts.
- Have an exit strategy when conversations get tense.
- Put children first. For example, to protect children, a family may agree to wear masks at an indoor gathering because it is best for the little ones.
- Ask a matriarch or patriarch to impose a moratorium on politics at family events. The executor must immediately silence raised voices, profanity and personal insults.
People who are far apart can write an email to estranged siblings, stressing their desire to re-establish relationships and offering parameters for their relationships, i.e. ban certain topics. To foster dialogue and write a sibling contract, ask loved ones for suggestions on how the family can be together.
To improve relationships, understanding, and even reconciliation, siblings should:
- Sit together, face to face.
- Listen without interrupting, without questioning each other’s stories. Search to understand. Experts agree that reconciliation is impossible without genuine and sincere listening.
- Acknowledge, empathetically, the other person’s hurt, anger, or alienation. Suppose they have sincere and trustworthy intentions. When each party accepts the experiences of both parties, neither feels devalued or excluded.
- Let go of the anger.
- Insist and act according to your will and hope to create a mutual bond.
Even though my brother’s issues and my issues are not political, I often remember that we don’t need to agree on everything, and it’s not my job to change my mind. I learned to say, âI don’t agree, but I respect your point of viewâ and âYou gave me food for thought. Can we talk about it another time?
These simple words defuse the most explosive moment. It is the wisdom gained after separation that has cost our family dearly. Now, after years of reconciliation, the gratitude and connection that my brother and I share is a treasure for our elderly mother and children.
For us, as for many brothers and sisters who have overcome estrangement – whether they are rooted in old and cold slights or in the searing politics of today – the loving presence of a brother or sister. ‘a sister is his reward.
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