LOS ANGELES — For Democrats and Republicans, the political polarization in this country is palpable.

"I had a client just this past week — their relationship ended because of differences in how they were voting," said Dr. Lauren Cook, a local therapist and author.

She says many political conversations nowadays go beyond a simple difference of opinion. Some have told her they feel their morals are under attack.

What You Need To Know

  • Dr. Lauren Cook, a local therapist, weighs in on today's political polarization

  • Cook says many people feel their morals are under attack during political conversations

  • Setting a time limit for yourselves for political debates helps, Cook says

  • She warns against “black and white” thinking and instead encourages a "both/and" perspective

"It’s not just about political facts and opinions," she said. "It starts to become really personal, where if someone feels one way and another person feels differently, it can feel really hard to tolerate that difference."

If you do decide to get into a political debate, she says set a time limit: no more than 20 minutes.

"If you notice yourself getting into that really activated fight or flight mode, take a step out. It’s OK to say to your partner, 'You know, I think I need five, 10 minutes. Let’s come back to this when we’re both a little bit calmer.'"

Next, incorporate eye contact and some touch, if appropriate, when talking to a family member or partner.

"Whether it’s a gentle hug, maybe holding a hand, especially making eye contact, not having these conversations while you’re scrolling through your phone, but actually looking each other in the eye," Cook said. "This can really help you see the other person's point of view and, at a minimum, start to empathize with why they may feel the way that they do."

She urges people to read up on the issues and educate themselves — don’t bury your head in the sand.

"A lot of us, when we get activated, especially by politics, we want to avoid, right? And yet, avoidance doesn’t give us grounded resolution in our answers, especially if someone does want to debate us. We want to make sure we have the facts to back up why we feel the way we do."

She also warns against “black and white” thinking and instead encourages a "both/and" perspective rather than an "either/or" mentality.

"You can have a close relationship with your parents, with your partner with your friends, even if you see differently," said Cook. "That’s the 'both/and' that we speak to."

She challenges everyone to seek out information from a variety of media sources, even if the opposing opinions feel uncomfortable.

"This is when we learn to get comfortable being uncomfortable, and that means sitting with opinions that are different from ours. Rather than avoiding or tuning that out, actually practicing holding that sometimes."

Amid the toxic rhetoric and polarizing perspectives, Cook sees a bright side.

"If you really look at this, people are feeling this passionately because our country and welfare of our country means something to people, and so that should give us some sense of hope. We’re not apathetic. We really do care about the future of our country."