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I have been listening recently to writer and broadcaster Jon Ronson’s series about the origin stories behind contemporary culture wars, entitled ‘Things Fell Apart’. It is an excellent set of stories about how issues such as divides between anti-racists and white nationalists in America and elsewhere often started with a simple misunderstanding or a spoken half-truth, which then become amplified through media, be it social or broadcast media. 

At the end of an interview with Lauren Laverne, Ronson was asked about what might help these divisions stop.  All the things he mentioned immediately brought to mind some of the things I try to encourage couples to do to bring an end to their arguments or colder, quieter versions of their division.  Ronson mentioned trying to encourage curiosity instead of judgement, the importance of patience, of listening to people, considering both sides of an argument on a human level. This isn’t about giving people who do bad things an easy ride – there should be consequences of cruelty, but its also about understanding the motivations that lie underneath.

This has started me wondering about the effect of polarised views in society, most obviously displayed on social media but also the increasingly partisan conventional media channels, and whether this might be unconsciously influencing our real life relationships. Several couples I have met recently have talked about their partners as very different from them, and while this isn’t new at all – ‘opposites attract’ after all –  perhaps what has changed is people’s expectations that they might be able to bridge the divide between them via curiosity about each other’s thoughts and feelings.  Perhaps the social media and culture divides have had a consequence much closer to home, that fixed ways of thinking with little room for flexibility have become rather ingrained in our minds, so that we are inclined to have less belief in the value of compromise and give and take.

Another possible influence of social media and culture war in the home might be how being generous and kind to each other Is less prevalent.  At some point in most of the work I do with couples, there comes a point where each party has to stop thinking about what they are being denied by the other, and think about what they can offer to the other in order to rebuild trust and a kind, generous climate between them.  Clearly these qualities are in short supply in the media environment. 

So what to do about this?  I think that’s actually quite simple, though can take people time to readjust and to find their love again.  It’s not simply a matter of deciding to be more curious, patent, kind and generous. It takes practice, and often past resentments need to be aired and eventually put aside in order to allow a more positive stance to prevail again.  It often helps to go back to where a couple started together, when those positive behaviours were usually there in abundance.