Healing Relationships Across the Divide

Terry Lieb Healing Relationships, Judging Others 4 Comments

I haven’t felt this much division in our country in my lifetime! This growing political chasm has been my most pressing concern for some time. If you follow my blog, you’ll know I wrote about it in 2020 , but since then it seems we have made no strides toward mending the divide and it continues to poison relationships at all levels of society. Even close friends and family members are finding it difficult to keep politics from disrupting—and sometimes even destroying—their relationships.

Just recently I called to check on Norm, a longtime friend whose spouse died of cancer a few years ago. In the midst of catching up on our adult children, his demeanor changed significantly. It got quiet and eventually I said, “I sense some pain or sadness when we started to talk about your oldest daughter?”

Hesitantly he explained his oldest daughter, Mindy, and her family had visited over Christmas, driving in from the Midwest. Norm doesn’t fly anymore and the drive to their home has become too much for him since his wife died. Consequently their semi-annual visit is the extent of their face-to-face time together.

“As you might remember Mindy is very bright, articulate, confident and has been very successful in her career. She is the one child who is most like her mother. It has become very clear over time that we see most major issues in our current world very differently! I think we have unconsciously decided to avoid or simply walk around the difficult issues. Because we have such limited time together this approach has kept things civil however the tension is always present.

The day before Christmas she announced that she found a water-saver shower head in the linen closet which we received years ago through some promotion and decided to switch it with the existing shower head in our guest bathroom. I asked her why she didn’t have the simple courtesy of checking with me first.

She shot back, ‘Because you ignore every suggestion I make to take better care of our world! The last time we had this discussion and I suggested you make some changes for the sake of your children and grandchildren you never even acknowledged I had spoken. That obviously upset you and you completely shut down, refusing to make some minor changes. It’s actually very selfish on your part!’

I got very angry and defensive when she called me selfish and it was all downhill from there. Fortunately my son-in-law stepped in and proposed to my daughter that they go out for a cup of coffee. Neither of us chose to talk about what happened and the following day they went to visit her closest high school friend in the next town for two days.

However, the most painful piece for me was when Mindy called to say they had changed their plans and would be leaving for home the following day thus scrapping the original plan to spend an additional two days with me. I’ve been angry and upset ever since!

This also got me to thinking about the rest of my kids. My one son tends to see most issues much the same as I do, consequently we talk about them often. To be honest I’m not quite sure where my other three children are on most of these issues but I suspect they see them at least somewhat differently than I do and have chosen to simply avoid those topics for the sake of our relationship.”

Then again he became quiet and said, “I never considered that the decision not to talk about important issues might have left us with very hollow and superficial relationships. It seems like we have chosen to only talk with those folks who see issues as we do. I expect we only listen to and watch media that is consistent with how we see the world as well.”

“Terry,” he asked plaintively, “where the hell is this all going to end?”

I said, “I really don’t have many answers. I’m struggling just like you but I’m beginning to see the value in just attempting to listen. This is extremely difficult for me especially with folks who see these issues quite differently than I do. I have given up my effort to change the other person’s mind and attempt to convince them they are wrong. The most difficult step for me to accept is that my position seems to make sense for me at that point but may not be the absolute correct and only way to understand this issue.

On those occasions when I can gain a better understanding as to why the other person feels so strongly I have gained a perspective that may help in taking a small step in healing the division in our relationship.”

Norm became quite emotional but managed to ask, “So what do I do now?”

“I don’t know, Norm. You could begin by taking a shower in the guest bathroom before removing the water-saver shower head!” I said. “It might not be as bad as you think. Just trying it will let her know you are working at becoming more open and that you do value her perspective.”

It was a seemingly simple act, but it could open a door instead of closing one, which sometimes is all we need. We spoke a little longer about the value of his relationship with Mindy and how he could repair and safeguard it. We hung up with Norm promising to take that shower!

After I left, Norm’s dilemma and his poignant questions stuck with me. Unfortunately, his situation isn’t unique. I know many people whose close, lifelong relationships have frayed or ended because they are on opposite sides of the political divide. Recently I called a friend and asked about the health of one of their family members who had a serious—potentially fatal—case of Covid. They replied that they didn’t know because they were no longer speaking based on different views on politics!

Another friend said he’s basically been blackballed in his neighborhood after posting a campaign sign in his yard during the 2020 presidential election—this after years of friendly neighborly relations. A divorced couple I know were so proud of how well they got along after their split that it was a large part of their identity. However, after years of peace and harmony, today they can’t even be in the same room together. “We survived the divorce, but we couldn’t survive politics,” the man told me sadly.

Across the board, people are struggling with the question, Is it possible to have close, authentic relationships with people on the opposite side of the political divide? If so, how???

I certainly don’t have all the answers and continue muddling through myself, but here are a few approaches I’ve found helpful:

Weigh the risks. When making decisions about how—or if—to talk about politics with someone on the opposite side of the aisle, there is no “one size fits all” response. Before instigating a potentially combustible conversation, evaluate how important the relationship is, what the chance of the discussion being productive vs. destructive, and what the fallout might be if things go south. Ask yourself, what do I have to gain or lose?

Check your motives. Are you having this discussion to further your understanding of the other person, deepen your relationship with them, or even find out more about the issue that might actually alter your perspective on it (even if only in a small way)? Or are you trying to change their mind or prove you are in the right? And don’t worry, trying to understand the other doesn’t mean you have to alter or give up your position!

Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash.com

Get curious. Since the chances of either of you “converting” the other are remote, if you go into the conversation seeking change rather than understanding, you are setting yourself up to be disappointed, frustrated, and upset. Instead of seeing it as a battle to be won, try shifting your attitude to one of curiosity. How exactly does the other person see things? Why do they think the way they do? What fears and personal experiences might be coming into play?

Lighten up. Don’t take things so seriously! I know what you’re saying. “But, Terry, it is serious! The fate of the nation—maybe the entire world—hinges on it!” Both sides are convinced that the other side’s policies—whether socialist or authoritarian—will destroy freedom, democracy, and America itself. Sure, these consequences may be very serious, but you don’t have to be (and it doesn’t help). Your fear, worry, anger, etc. don’t move the needle one iota in the direction you think we need to go (and, in fact, the division itself may be our greatest threat!). Inject some humor; remember to laugh, especially at yourself and “your” side. The conversation will go much smoother with a lighter touch.

Don’t take it personally. A lot of us have let politics become part of our identity, therefore an attack on our views feels like an attack on us. Separating our sense of self from our political beliefs can help keep us from getting defensive. I’ve found that if I feel myself getting defensive, that’s a signal that I should turn my attention to myself to figure out why I’m having this reaction and what it says about me rather than taking it out on the other person.

Put it in perspective. Political views are just a small portion of a person’s entirety. Why focus on this single aspect and let it overshadow all others? If you think someone’s political beliefs must mean they are ignorant, stupid, evil, or crazy, does the rest of their behavior bear this out? Are they a hard worker, loyal friend, faithful spouse, dedicated parent, committed volunteer, generous giver, animal lover, or just all-around good person? Look at the big picture.

Recognize intentions. While you might not agree with someone else’s conclusions and reasoning, you can probably appreciate their intentions. Although Mindy accused Norm of selfishness, she surely knew that his intention was not to ruin the planet for future generations merely so he could enjoy good water pressure! And for his part, while he might not think her fears about climate change are justified, Norm can appreciate Mindy’s intention to protect her children’s future.

Reject black-and-white thinking. Consciously or unconsciously we have moved many issues into absolute buckets—absolutely right or absolutely wrong. However, most of these big issues are so complex that there is no one Absolutely Correct Answer. Start looking for the shades of gray and find the common ground you share. As you talk, make a point to emphasize and celebrate each point of agreement you are able to uncover.

See it as a spiritual challenge. It sometimes feels as if it is our God-given duty to cut ties with people we believe are supporting an immoral, oppressive, or otherwise “ungodly” agenda. People from both parties feel like God is on their side and to be faithful, they cannot contaminate their morality by embracing “the enemy.” But what if you reframed devotion to God by seeing each conflicted relationship as a challenge to practice extreme compassion and love? Would you work harder at maintaining those relationships?

Make a gesture—or don’t! Sometimes we do things just to “make a statement” or “take a stand.” The impulse to stand up for what we believe is understandable (and it feels good!); however, these “virtue-signaling” gestures only breed more polarization. What if we switched our symbolic gestures to those that embody goodwill toward the other side (instead of our favored groups) instead? Norm replacing the energy-saving shower head was making one kind of statement. His taking a shower with it was making another. Which one do you think has more chance of bringing healing?



  1. Has the political divide impacted you on a personal level? How?
  2. “A house divided cannot stand,” is often attributed to Lincoln during the Civil War, but is actually from the Bible (Mark 3:25). What does this mean to you? Do you think the division in our society might pose as much a threat as either side? Why or why not?
  1. The fact that society has become more divided, uncivil, disrespectful, angry, and hostile, and we don’t like the increasingly toxic climate seems to be the one thing both sides can agree on! What can you do personally to help heal the divide?
  1. Norm said, “I never considered that the decision not to talk about important issues might have left us with very hollow and superficial relationships.” What do you think about this statement?
  1. Have you had any positive experiences where a conversation with someone on the other side of the aisle expanded your understanding of them and improved your relationship? What was different about that conversation than ones that didn’t go as well?
  1. How do you think God wants us to act toward our political “enemies” or opponents?
  1. Do you have any valued relationships that have been damaged by your and/or other’s response to the growing political divide? What could you do to try to initiate some healing? Can you commit to giving it a try this month?


Banner photo by Luis Villasmil on Unsplash.com

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David Kuntz
David Kuntz
March 2, 2022 9:02 am

Thank you Terry. I have wrestled with this over the last few years. It has really caused me a lot of stress. The paradox of great people like Martin Luther King Jr, John Lewis, Rosa Parks, Abraham Lincoln, FDR or the lone man refusing to salute in a sea of people saluting hitler among others that have taken a stand and the job we have to be patient, kind, understanding as Christians and humans and how doing those things impacts our well being. It almost a tug of war between standing up and letting it go. You found a third… Read more »

Elsa B Heintzelman
Elsa B Heintzelman
March 3, 2022 7:22 am

I struggle with this too, but the presence of true evil in our world, those who mock handicaps and those of other colors and races cause me to distance myself. Would we be listening to Hitler’s followers in Germany in the 1930’s-40’s? I hope not. I will not seek common ground with Putin’s supporters, and I will continue to pray for minds and hearts (yes, mine too) to be opened to our common humanity and suffering. This war is breaking my heart.

Ron Wildasin
Ron Wildasin
March 3, 2022 12:42 pm

What a timely message. Life is too short to damage relationships without slowing down, graciously listening and understanding the other side. In many cases I have found common ground by just asking the question “why.” You just have to understand when it is best to be humble.


[…] It was quiet for a few seconds—what I think they call “deafening silence”—and I began to second-guess my words. Why on earth had I said that? I’d just made things incredibly awkward! Worse, had calling attention to the division I see breaking the country apart—something I increasingly see as the greatest danger we face today merely put more energy toward the very thing I wanted to overcome? See related article — Healing Relationships Across the Divide. […]