The Ewells are a family divided. Rachel and her sisters voted for Hillary Clinton. Their parents voted for Donald Trump.
“I didn’t talk to my parents for several weeks after the election because I didn’t feel like I could talk to them and be rational — I was too emotional,” said Ewell, 39, of Minneapolis. “I was hopeful it would get better, but it just keeps getting worse. I can’t get over it.”
The election has been over for months, but the rancor it spawned among families, friends and couples is not fading. Therapists say they’re seeing an unusually high number of clients seeking professional help in dealing with political polarization in their relationships.
“It’s causing tensions that I’ve not heard about in past elections,” said Bill Doherty, a family social science professor at the University of Minnesota.
“I’ve even heard from colleagues of married couples considering breaking up.”
Earl Lingerfelt said his girlfriend of three months broke up with him via text message when he didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton. And he didn’t even vote for Trump — he wrote in another Democrat, Jim Webb.
“She was very emotional about this election,” said Lingerfelt, 45, of Champlin. “She took it very personally that I did not agree with her.”
How can a country divided move on? Many liberals say they want to, but they are paralyzed with anxiety by what Trump might do next. Conservatives say their friends on the other side simply need to lighten up.
Take, for example, Jerome Lindquist, 47, and his close group of friends in the communities of Dassel and Cokato, an hour west of the Twin Cities. Four of the men voted for Trump. The other, a teacher, voted for Clinton.
“You can’t even kid him about it. It’s like the sky is falling. What strikes me as odd is how defensive he is,” Lindquist said. “We’ve been friends through six elections and it’s never been like this.”
About 40 percent of Americans say the election has hurt a close relationship, according to a poll conducted in early February by Rasmussen Reports. That’s a sharp increase from the 26 percent who said just days before the election that the presidential race was hindering relationships.
Experts say bridging an ever-widening political gap in personal relationships isn’t easy, but it’s not impossible.
“We can focus on the higher-level values that nearly all of us share,” Doherty said. “It’s usually the means we disagree on, not the ends.”
Politics used to be openly discussed as much as someone’s age or income (i.e. very little). These days, political opinions are blasted on social media where they are tied, it seems, inextricably to one’s moral compass.
Lana Beckard, 30, lives on a small hobby farm in Silver Lake, Minn., and although she voted for Gary Johnson, she’s frustrated by assumptions that rural Minnesotans are intolerant.
“I have felt completely pegged as a closed-minded racist just because I didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton,” Beckard said. “It’s this belief that if you’re not with us, you’re against us. I have friends that asked anyone who didn’t vote for Hillary to unfriend them [on Facebook].”
Voters in the two major parties are now further apart than at any point over the last quarter-century, according to a study by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.
Heather Corbin is a self-professed “hard-core liberal” who frequently sounds off about politics on Facebook. Corbin, 45, of Big Lake, says Facebook is “an echo chamber for our silos” and while she recognizes that her attempts to bring others around to her way of thinking likely fall short, she finds comfort in sharing opinions with like-minded people.
Corbin’s digital activism hasn’t come without repercussions. After posting about the women’s march in January, Corbin said she exchanged biting words with her brother on Facebook, then he unfriended her.
“We’ve had conversations in person since,” she said. “We just can’t talk about anything but sports.”
Claudette Moran blames Facebook for perpetuating political disagreements among some of her family members, particularly after Trump was inaugurated. The 49-year-old Little Falls woman voted for Clinton, whereas most of her family voted for Trump.
“It snowballed to a point where some of us are no longer speaking to each other,” Moran said.
Recently, Moran said she’s been avoiding political posts on Facebook. Others are logging off the site altogether — a social media diet, so to speak — to avoid debate.
While we can surround ourselves with like-minded peers on social media, we don’t get to cherry-pick our family.
Ewell says she is talking to her parents again, but operating under a strict no-politics policy. In the short term, relationship experts say that’s a healthy resolution, but left unresolved for too long, relationships can drift apart.
“I love my parents and I will always love them no matter who they vote for,” Ewell said. “I’m hopeful it will get better as time goes on, but I don’t know if it will. The elephant is always in the room.”
Therapist Alan Davis says many clients who have sat across from him the past four months have wondered if their relationships can survive times of such political polarization.
The answer is yes, he said, but it involves having the ability to de-escalate the problem respectfully, and a commitment to repair the relationship.
“The problem is a lack of listening and a cultural belief that relationships are kind of disposable,” said Davis, who specializes in working with high-conflict couples and families in Maple Grove. “Rather than be civil it has become normal to call each other losers and cut people off completely.”
Politics are stressing people out as much as work and money. According to the American Psychological Association, levels of anxiety have increased since the election, with two-thirds of Americans surveyed saying they are stressed out about the future of the country.
“For couples and family members, it’s important to remind themselves that their bonds go deeper than political orientation,” Doherty said. “Blood is thicker than politics, and marriage vows don’t come with a commitment for life ‘unless you like a candidate I hate.’ ”