This year’s presidential election left much of America a traumatized, disgusted, fearful and embarrassed shell of itself. And now that Donald J. Trump is president-elect of the United States, many people who are part of the groups that he insulted and demeaned throughout his campaign ― Muslims, immigrants, Latinos, African Americans, people with disabilities and women, including those with histories of sexual assault ― are afraid for their safety and futures.
Some of Trump’s stated priorities involve dramatic changes in deportation and immigration policy, and the right to marry whom you choose and the right to an abortion also appear to be in the new administration’s crosshairs. It’s no wonder those who will be most affected are now looking askance at the family and friends in their lives who helped make this presidency possible.
OB/GYN Jennifer Conti is likely one of them. A month before the election, she posted a series of deeply personal letters in Slate, begging her father to not vote for Trump because of her personal history of sexual assault: Trump was caught on tape bragging about violating women in the same exact way Conti was groped as a child. Her father held firm in his support for the nominee.
When political rhetoric stokes our deepest fears about safety, political inclusion and national belonging, it’s hard to put politics aside and focus on the parts of a relationship that are productive and loving. And in the face of the unknown, people who feel scared and threatened need to seek support about how to manage the political uncertainty of the incoming administration, says Ken Yeager, director of the Stress, Trauma and Resilience program at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
While this naturally means reaching out for support from friends and allies who hold similar beliefs and concerns, it could also involve re-evaluating or restoring relationships with people who didn’t vote like you.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself before attempting to heal broken relationships — or deciding they aren’t worth saving at all.
1. How do you feel about your loved ones after learning about their views?
Before any healing can take place, said Yeager, you first need to figure out how you feel about friends and family who expressed disturbing political views or aligned with politicians you found repugnant.
What do you think the status of your relationship is now? What do you wish your relationship could be? If you want to change your relationship with this person, what are you willing to work for, and are you also willing to walk away?
This means acknowledging your own feelings of hurt, and admitting there may be deeper issues that divide you beyond policy matters. A woman with a history of sexual assault who feels betrayed by her father’s Trump vote may, for example, begin by acknowledging that she expected her father to protect her — just as she expects political leaders to keep people safe, said Yeager.
“Are you holding on to the relationship because of what it is, or because of what you hope it could be?” said Yeager. “The next step becomes, ‘What is it that I need to do if I don’t like the relationship the way it is?’”
2. Did this election create a political fracture, or merely reveal an existing one?
David Valdes Greenwood, the Latino son of an immigrant, wrote in a Huffington Post blog that he was dismayed to see so many friends share that they were voting for Trump because his values aligned with their own. But it’s very likely that Greenwood’s friends held these values the whole time, says Yeager, and the election just gave them a platform to showcase them.
Learning your friends’ and family members’ beliefs and deciding to engage with them could be at least one upside to the way this election has changed relationships.
“The problems that are being amplified existed anyway, and I think acknowledging that they exist gives the opportunity to maybe, in some cases, open the door and begin addressing them,” said Yeager. “That to me might be the silver lining of this whole election campaign.”
3. Is your loved one willing to work with you on reconciliation?
If you decide to reconcile a relationship, your family member or friend must be willing to engage in the hard work, too — whether that means digging even deeper into the issues that divide you, or focusing on the aspects of a relationship that bring you both joy.
A word of caution: If you’re serious about engaging with people about the issues that troubled you this election, said Yeager, be prepared for the possibility that you may not come to a consensus or agreement.
Hopefully, the other person will acknowledge your anxiety, angst or fear, and try to understand what your concerns are. Both parties could also acknowledge that the way we consume our facts, news and political commentary nowadays is highly segregated in ways most people can’t perceive.
“The candidates provided a platform for a conversation that needed to be had,” said Yeager. “We can capitalize on those conversations and begin talking about the difficulties that we face. The downside of this is that some of these conversations aren’t going to go well, and they may not have gone well to begin with.”
4. Is it time to walk away?
For some of us, this election will be an ugly realization that the family you were born into simply isn’t going to be your supportive family, said Yeager. Maybe your loved one isn’t working toward reconciliation with you, or maybe you’ve reached an impasse and can’t see eye-to-eye on even the most basic issues.
Consider Kergan Edwards-Stout, a gay father of black sons, who wrote in The Huffington Post about fearing for his children’s lives and physical safety under a Trump administration. “Whether you’re a blood relative, an old flame, a schoolmate, or a co-worker, your vote tells me you don’t value my marriage, (as Trump promises to appoint Supreme Court nominees who will strike down that marriage right), you don’t value the safety and well-being of our children (as Trump incites violence against minorities),” he wrote.
If you discover that this is the case for you, too, you might decide to leave the relationship entirely or readjust your expectations for what it can be. This could include talking with your siblings to see if they have similar issues with your parents, for example, or figuring out the next steps to draw closer toward people who have similar beliefs.
There’s no right or wrong way to approach these issues with family and friends, Yeager concluded. But the most productive way forward would be to focus on your beliefs and actions without obsessing about how other people need to change to suit your needs.