In or Out: Don't Let Brexit Ruin Your Relationships
According to media reports, the upcoming EU Referendum has created tensions within the Prime Minister’s personal circle of friends and family. His wife, Samantha, is reported to have felt ‘betrayed’ by close family friend Michael Gove who is leading the leave campaign. Her husband David Cameron is leading the in campaign. Ouch.
In our own personal lives, disagreements and conflicts are all part of day to day living. At their worst they can lead to resentment, bitterness, isolation and blame - for a long time after the event. Families cease talking to each other. Friendships end.
Yet being able to air our disagreements and concerns can bring a feeling of clarity, relief, respect from others. Like any other disagreement, when it comes to whether we should stay in Europe, conflict can arise for a number of reasons. We may be having trouble understanding a close friend, who we thought we knew well, taking a different line to us. It can feel disconcerting when we discover we have been ‘wrong footed’. After all, haven’t they always agreed with us in the past?
We may feel aggrieved because our views are not being heard, listened or even considered. It could be a feeling we have harboured for a long time. Since childhood, perhaps. ‘What I think doesn’t count - it never has’ can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is especially true if we are taking a different view to everyone else we know. We feel isolated. Not fitting in or belonging to what we consider a close knit family or peer group can also feel lonely.
Perhaps our values and beliefs are not in step with our nearest and dearest; if we admit to wanting to leave Europe we may be fearful of being perceived as racist. Perhaps we do have deep concerns about immigration. But we may believe that such a view may not be shared within our own circles so we keep it to ourselves. Thus risking inner conflict.
Perhaps we are not happy with the way Europe is treating us so we want to leave; this feeling can quite easily become personal if we also feel we are not happy with the way we are being treated by friends and family. The world may feel it’s working against us and we can’t see the bigger picture. Which, in turn, can lead to us feeling angry and stressed, possibly escalating into confrontation. Unresolved inner conflict in our personal lives may raise its head – which, as likely as not, has very little to do with the Referendum.
So, what to do?
- We can talk to the person with whom we disagree, in a way which is respectful and constructive. A good way to do this is think about the point we wish to express. We are more effective when we are calm and not angry. It’s a good idea to let the other person know that we would like to talk to them. Bear in mind that the other person may not want to enter into discussion. That is OK. That is their right.
- We can write down what we think and why we think it. If a discussion can take place, it is important that we actively listen to the other person’s perspective. Listen well. Waiting for the person to finish so that we give our opinion is not listening.
- Tell the other person how we feel. Making ‘I’ statements (‘I feel’, ‘I believe’) are important. Avoid ‘you’ statements as they can sound confrontational. It is okay to talk about feelings. They are ours. So own them. It is important to give the other person the opportunity to say how they feel too.
- When we are in conflict with close ones a third person can be a good idea. This role of mediator helps to give perspective and help us reflect on our thoughts and views. It may help us to understand the other person and encourages open communication.
The psychotherapist Fritz Perls wrote ‘I do my thing. You do your thing. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations. And you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you and I am I’.
This can help us understand that personal relationships are not founded on obligation or expectation. If the person we disagree with is an important person in our life and one with whom we wish to continue a relationship, it’s okay to agree to disagree. That way we have good chance of gaining mutual respect and a feeling of equality and enjoy our personal connections. Long after the vote is over.