- Counseling & Mental Health
- Israel Response
By Robyn Bloom, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at JFCS
As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I have recently been asked for advice from folks who are worried about spending time with family members with different perspectives on current events, politics and—most recently—the war in Israel.
With all the conflict in the world, peace in the home, Shalom Bayit, should be the goal—which can make it tempting to shy away from difficult topics. But there are ways to communicate that can bring us closer together and deepen our understanding of one another.
When done carefully, with a willingness to listen and without needing to be “right,” we can learn more about the people we hold dear, share more of our own challenging emotional experiences, and build a bridge between ideas and one another.
Here’s how talking to loved ones with whom you disagree can be productive instead of divisive:
It’s Good to Be Prepared
Before entering a challenging conversation, it’s helpful to mentally prepare with a few initial thoughts:
- Consider what you value most about visiting family and friends. How can you contribute to that value in your interactions with them?
- Most of our deepest held values are universal. As you clarify your own views, can you find connection points in those of others?
- Take note of your own motivations. What is the most important viewpoint that is related to what you value you want others to see from your perspective?
- Set a goal for yourself to learn two new things about your conversation partner during the talk.
Agree on Shared Ground Rules
It is a basic need for us to want to feel seen and understood by the people closest to us. When our point of view is invalidated or disregarded it can be truly painful and further our sense of disconnection.
Consider inviting the conversation in with some shared ground rules so that you can proceed with respect for one another:
- Suggest ways you might agree to re-direct the conversation if it becomes hurtful or reactive.
- Agree that it’s acceptable to pause and excuse yourselves if you are finding it difficult to stay calm.
- Establish that what is most important is that you listen to and hear each other, even when it’s hard.
By setting the tone for the conversation you are establishing that the spirit of connection and care while discussing things is as important as the content.
Once you’ve mentally prepared yourself and laid down the foundation of mutual respect, you are ready to begin your discussion—always remembering to be mindful. Try to widen your lens and learn something new about your conversation partner as you seek to build connection.
Be an Active Listener
It’s critical that you demonstrate to your speaking partner that you’re invested in what they have to say. This means staying curious and displaying good listening skills. If you catch yourself formulating a reply while someone else is speaking, you are probably not listening well.
If safe, allow yourself to be emotionally vulnerable and acknowledge your feelings. Regardless of what you are thinking about current events, consider speaking about it from how it is affecting you emotionally, rather than focusing on specifics. When we acknowledge our feelings—sadness, pain, sense of helplessness, fears or hopes—we create an opportunity to connect human-to-human because everyone is struggling, and it helps us feel less alone. We all need community.
Notice when you feel the need to disagree. When someone is sharing their experience, we want to honor their position rather than suggest their experience is wrong. The war is upsetting to us all but for different reasons. We are strongest when we can expand our sense of complexities rather than trying to simplify that which is not simple.
Keep Your Cool
When you feel triggered, take a deep breath, and before stating a disagreement, consider asking a question rather than reacting. It is amazing how things can unfold when we turn upset feelings into curiosity—asking for more information to better understand one another. Nothing will turn a conversation sideways faster than when we knowingly or unknowingly invalidate another person’s perspective.
Use Facts Wisely
Hard facts are important, but relationships are not built on shared facts, they are built on shared connection. If you and this person are accustomed to respectfully sharing facts with one another, go ahead—but when we stray towards being “right,” we are likely losing connection.
If you’re only using facts to show a loved one the error of their thinking, I suggest you save your energy unless you seek a heated conversation. Being open to a new perspective starts with a genuine sense of care, interest, and openness, not forceful presentation of the facts!
It’s Okay to Stop
It is also a valid choice to disengage, respectfully, when the conversation is not going well or is triggering beyond what you can manage. Try to excuse yourself in a way that builds connection rather than erodes it.
Consider using a phrase like “I have been thinking a lot about (fill in the blank) and though I know it is important to both of us, I really don’t think I can talk about it in a constructive way. Because I value you and our relationship, it is best for me to excuse myself. I hope you can understand that.” You can always offer to try again later after you have cooled down.
Don’t Forget What Really Matters
What is most important is that we truly consider another’s point of view even when it is in sharp contrast to our own beliefs. When we ask someone for help understanding their experience, we are opening the door to authentic connection, respectful concern, and alternative perspectives—especially when different from our own.
Peace is not easy but as we practice and open our eyes, ears, and hearts to one another, it becomes more possible.
Robyn Bloom, LMFT, is a therapist at Jewish Family and Children’s Services. Her areas of expertise include treatment for adults, couples and families who are experiencing a variety of challenges including anxiety, depression, trauma, life transitions, financial challenges, separation, divorce, parenting and co-parenting, loss and grief. Certified in premarital counseling, Robyn helps couples build resilient relationships.
A Message from JFCS:
If you or someone you know could benefit from counseling or support, please call JFCS at 415-449-1212.