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Can you manage relationships despite ideological or political differences?

Most people have to grapple with the conundrum of having partners, family members or friends with different ideological beliefs these days

The farmers' protests, held from August 2020 to around December 2021 against three laws passed in Parliament, stoked a lot of ideological conflicts between people. (ANI Photo)
The farmers' protests, held from August 2020 to around December 2021 against three laws passed in Parliament, stoked a lot of ideological conflicts between people. (ANI Photo)

When Anushree Joshi was younger, she would not get affected by the hyper-nationalist and majoritarian views of her uncles and aunts. But she became vocal in her opposition to their comments after she went to college, because she realised that people's ideology or political beliefs translate into their view of human rights. 

"I've realised that the onus is on me to engage with people in my family and my community because groups who have been marginalised and actively harmed by these opinions and ideologies should not bear the burden of engaging with people like these [who hold harmful opinions]," says the 22-year-old climate researcher from Bengaluru. 

While Joshi tries to engage with them and change their mind through proven facts, there is a limit to it. If she finds that they are stuck to their beliefs and are beyond any hope, she stops putting herself in situations where she has to encounter them. 

Like Joshi, many of us grapple with these conundrums today. It's not uncommon to have different political or ideological beliefs in our relationships, from our families to our friends and romantic partners. But, in an increasingly divisive world, the question is whether we can still manage our existing relationships despite these differences and how they may impact our future relationships. 

Also read: The politics of strange bedfellows

For instance, a Pew Research Center survey on online dating in the United States from 2020 found that more than 70% of Democrat voters who were single and looking for a relationship said that they would not date a Donald Trump voter (who belongs to the Republican party). "The aversion to dating people of different political orientations reflects the partisan antipathy seen in the overall public," the report on the survey said. 

Is it only limited to dating choices, or does it affect other relationships too in the Indian context? 

Ideological differences impacting close relationships 

Like Joshi, Paridhi Badgotri had to deal with the repercussions of political differences. In this case, it was with her father. "We have had fights where he has called me anti-national and [said] that religion is everything and supreme,” says the content writer from New Delhi. “Sometimes, I cried during our fights. Now, as I have grown up, we still have endless debates, but [we] usually resort to taunts.”

She has let go of past friendships due to such differences, but she cannot do that at home. Still, Badgotri finds it difficult to navigate these differences; she loves her father but understands that she cannot change him. So, she makes a case for her beliefs and does not argue to a great extent. 

"Sometimes, maybe, I think we try to ignore the political in the personal," says Badgotri. 

This is perhaps the most common way many people tackle these unresolvable differences, especially with close relations. It is not easy to stay in perpetual conflict because they either wield a lot of emotional attachment or come with familial obligations. 

That is how it is for freelance journalist Kshitij Ojha too. It became difficult for him to communicate with his uncle, who works with the Delhi police, especially after the Citizenship Amendment Act/National Register of Citizens protests in 2020. Their differences of opinion made him angry. But Ojha says, “I had to keep aside all of that because my parents did not want me to have a bad relationship with him.” Since he hasn't been able to cut off a relationship like that, he has limited his interactions only to birthday parties or anniversary celebrations. 

Also read: How to cope with the anxiety over ageing parents

Even though Badgotri and Ojha have maintained some equanimity, it has affected their relationships. It is, after all, not just the ideology but rather what lies beneath it that comes into question. "The key here is not the ideology but the why and how of it. Why does the person hold the views they hold?" probes Kolkata-based psychotherapist Mansi Poddar. Taking her example, she says that communal bias and attacks are a deal-breaker for her as someone holding such views indicates their mindset.  

"Most people who align with ideologies that oppress and discriminate usually have various unprocessed issues around power, connection and agency," explains Poddar. Therefore, she suggests assessing political ideologies and how it manifests in a person's behaviour and outlook towards others. And it is required to address it when political ideologies become personal and start causing feelings of strife, aggression, and anger. 

Is making new connections possible? 

For this associate professor of economics (who did not want to be named) at a central university in New Delhi, any distinction in political beliefs doesn't matter much in her relationships. "I think a lot of people don't have unalterable views on such issues, and they are usually the ones it is easier to discuss these topics with. With others who might have a more rigid stance, we agree to disagree and focus on other things that bring us together, like mutual interests and personal matters," she says. 

It has allowed her to maintain relationships with close friends, extended family, and even a romantic partner and make new bonds with those who hold different ideological leanings from her. 

It is in contrast to what others had to say — while most are willing to make efforts with relatives and families or childhood relationships, they consider cutting off and not befriending or dating someone with an opposing political belief. 

"I have cut off friends who have different political views than me simply because I believe that we can choose our partner and friends," says Ojha. 

Poddar thinks there are no fixed strategies or ways to manage or approach such relationships, as a lot depends on the specific context. Cutting off people for not being the way you want them to be may not be the best option either though because it will only lead to increased isolation and loneliness. 

For those wondering what to do about these differences in their relationships, Poddar proposes that they consider these questions: "1) How are the ideologies impacting your daily life; 2) Are the differences strong or impactful enough to end this [relationship]; 3) Do their views impact your sense of identity and being; 4) How do they treat you outside of these views?" 

She adds that it may be better to weigh other factors in your relationships than just partisan politics. "It’s essential that people focus on differences and similarities in core values and [their] ways of living and ways of thinking about the relationship." 

Anmol is an independent journalist who writes and reports on gender, health, social justice, and culture from an intersectional lens. You will find them on Twitter @ha_anmol

Also read: Talking politics with the parents



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