What To Do If a Friend Has Different Beliefs or Opinions

“Some of my friends have different beliefs and opinions, and it’s made it really hard for me to feel close to them. Seeing their posts on Facebook and getting into debates with them has led to bad feelings between us. Is it possible to remain close friends with someone who has different beliefs?”

People have always debated politics, but these days, many topics have become politicized. Strong feelings and opinions about world events may have made it harder to relate and connect with friends who hold differing viewpoints. It is possible to preserve your friendships with people who have opposing views, but it may require you to learn some new social skills.

In this article, you will learn how to maintain good relationships with friends who have differing beliefs or opinions than you.

Why opposing beliefs can strain friendships

Most friendships and close relationships are built upon a foundation of similarities. Research shows that people are most likely to become close friends with people who share similar interests, values, and beliefs as them.[3][4]

While it’s normal and natural to want like-minded friends, this can also make it difficult to remain friends with someone once you find out you have different views than them. This is especially true when your beliefs and opinions are particularly strong or when the topic is really important to you.

Benefits of diverse friend groups

It might not seem like there are a lot of upsides to staying friends with people who disagree with you on important issues, don’t be too quick to cut ties. Being able to maintain close relationships with people who are different from you is an important skill that can help you in many ways.

Some of the benefits of having friends with different beliefs include:[2]

  • Getting more balanced perspectives and information that can help expand your awareness or even change your views on a topic
  • Learning how to get along with people who are different from you can help you be more tolerant of other people
  • Maintaining friendships with people who have different politics or ideas can help keep your friend group diverse
  • Being more likely to stand up or advocate for people with other views because you know and love someone within this group
  • Learning to find common ground with people who are different from you teaches you to not judge people too quickly based on their politics or how they look
  • Cutting ties with people who are different leads to tribalism and adds to the division and social problems in our society
  • Being in an “echo chamber” with only people who share your politics makes you more likely to develop extreme and radical views
  • Positive, close, healthy relationships are linked to better physical and mental health, and higher levels of life satisfaction

It’s also important to remember that tolerance is about accepting and respecting other people’s opinions, lifestyles, and cultures, no matter how different they are from our own.[5][6][7] The opposite of tolerance would be prejudice and discrimination, which most people would not openly support. Learning to be more accepting and respectful of individual differences is one simple way that we can all work to build a better version of society.

10 ways to stay friends with someone when you disagree

Here are 10 ways to keep your friendships close and strong, even when you and your friend disagree on a topic.

1. Keep an open mind

When you have strong opinions, feelings, and beliefs about a topic, you are more likely to enter into a conversation with a closed mind rather than an open mind. A closed mind will reject any information that does not confirm its existing beliefs, while an open mind is willing to consider all of the facts.

Here are some of the ways to know whether you are using a closed-minded or open-minded approach:[6][7]

Closed-minded approach Open-minded approach
Defending your opinion Understanding the other person’s opinion
Assuming one person is wrong Assuming you can both be right
Only seeing two viewpoints on an issue Seeing multiple viewpoints on an issue
Goal is to get the other person to agree Goal is to understand why they disagree
Doubling down when challenged Examining your beliefs when challenged

2. Know what topics to avoid

Some topics are just too emotionally charged to debate in a reasonable and respectful way. When you can’t be balanced on an issue, it’s a good idea not to get into a debate or argument about it, as you’re more likely to say or do things that could harm your friendship.

Avoid debating topics that are:[6]

  • Emotionally charged (usually with a negative emotion like fear or anger)
  • Tied to a past trauma or negative experience
  • Personal in some way for you
  • Impossible for you to see other perspectives on

3. Challenge your own beliefs

Taking time to challenge your beliefs can help you get clearer on where you stand on an issue, better prepare you to defend them, and help you gather all of the information about a topic.

Challenge your beliefs by:

  • Waiting to form a final opinion until you do the research
  • Research information supporting each side of the debate
  • Consider all of the facts, even when you don’t like them
  • Rely on primary sources rather than fact-checkers, leaders, or the media

4. Make understanding the goal

When you are having a conversation with someone about a topic you disagree on, try to make it your goal to understand the other person’s opinion and why they hold it, rather than trying to get them to change their opinion.

When understanding is your goal, you are more likely to:[6][7]

  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Listen to the other person’s response
  • Remain calm and not become defensive
  • Feel like you got something from the conversation

5. Speak for yourself

Another key to having positive interactions with people who hold differing beliefs than you is to use I-statements. I-statements are proven to help people effectively communicate during a conflict or disagreement and also help to reduce defensiveness.[6][7]

Here are some good examples of how to use I-statements effectively:

  • “I guess I just have a hard time understanding…”
  • “Personally, my opinion is that…”
  • “I have a lot of strong feelings about that because…”

6. Take a break when things get heated

If a conversation or debate gets a bit too heated, you may want to backtrack or even take a break. Things you could say or do out of anger or other strong emotions are more likely to come across wrong and possibly damage your friendship.[6] The key is to learn how to communicate about difficult topics without being rude.

Learning how to pick up on social cues can also help you know when you need to take a break during a conversation. Here are some cues that may indicate a conversation is getting heated:[6]

  • Yelling or talking more loudly
  • Interrupting or talking over each other
  • Making personal attacks rather than debating a topic
  • Calling each other’s ideas stupid or crazy
  • Talking in circles rather than moving forward in any direction
  • Feeling exhausted, frustrated, or stressed during a debate
  • The other person looks angry or upset

7. Find points of agreement

No matter how far apart your views seem to be, there are usually some ideas and beliefs that you agree with the other person on. Learning how to find things in common with people is a great way to protect your friendship and overcome your differences.

You can often find points of agreement by:[6][7]

  • Working to understand the personal experiences or emotions behind their views
  • Agreeing on factual points about the topic or on certain aspects of the key issue/problem
  • Agreeing for the need for more balanced or middle ground perspectives on the issue
  • Citing the need for more balanced and fair information, news coverage, and transparency on the issue

8. Agree to disagree

When your goal is to get the other person to agree with you, you are more likely to fail, become frustrated, and say and do things that damage your friendship. When you know you can agree to disagree and still be friends, it’s much easier to find an endpoint or ‘resolution’ to a conversation.[6]

9. Humanize the other side of the issue

While it may feel like you have nothing in common with your friend, most people are more similar than different. In order to stay connected to a friend who holds opinions you disagree with, it’s important to humanize them by reminding yourself that they also have thoughts, feelings, and the right to make their own choices.

Humanize friends you disagree with by remembering that:[6]

  • Like you, they are afraid of something, which may help to explain their beliefs
  • Like you, they want a better version of the future for themselves and their families
  • Like you, they are exposed to a lot of misinformation, fake news, and propaganda
  • Like you, they may have felt judged, ridiculed, or shamed by others for their views

10. Remember what matters

Most people would probably agree that their close relationships with friends and family members are more important than their political views or opinions. In order to stay connected to the people who matter the most (regardless of their politics), try to keep these things in mind:

  • What you’ve always known, liked, and respected about them
  • Ways they’ve been there for you when you needed them
  • Shared history and experiences that bind you together

Polarizing issues and topics in the USA

Certain social and cultural beliefs have always been polarizing in nature, but these days, most current events have a political “spin.” This has also meant that there are more controversial and sensitive topics for people to disagree on, leading our society to become more divided than ever before. The effects of this division can be felt online and also in real-life interactions with colleagues, friends, and family members.

There are many examples of current events that have led Americans to become more divided, including:[1][2]

  • The pandemic origins and response
  • Public health guidelines like masks and vaccines
  • Censorship, cancel culture, and the spread of misinformation
  • Economic problems, hardships, and policies
  • Gun laws and restrictions
  • Crime, violence, and inequality
  • Immigration laws and policies
  • Climate change and environmental policies
  • Different cultures and backgrounds
  • Religious beliefs or spiritual beliefs

Final thoughts

Being able to have calm, open, respectful conversations with people who think and feel differently from you is important and can help you stay friends with people who have different beliefs. Certain topics that lead you or your friend to become angry, upset, or defensive may need to be avoided in order to preserve your friendship. In these cases, finding more neutral topics is the best way to avoid saying or doing things that could harm your friendship.

Common questions

Can you be friends if you have different beliefs?

Yes, it is possible to stay friends with someone, even when you don’t hold the same opinions and beliefs. In fact, respecting their right to have a different opinion is one of the ways you can prove you are a true friend to them.

How can you show respect and still have a difference in opinion?

You show respect to someone by talking to them and treating them in a kind, fair, and civil way, even when you disagree on a topic. Avoid name-calling, attacking them personally, or trying to make them feel stupid or crazy for holding their opinions.

Why is it important to respect others’ opinions?

People are more likely to show you respect and hear your opinions out when you give them this same courtesy. Also, being respectful of people who are different from you (in how they look, feel, or think) is one of the best ways to demonstrate values like tolerance, respect, and equity.

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Hailey Shafir is a licensed mental health counselor, licensed addiction specialist, and clinical supervisor working out of Raleigh, NC. She has a Masters in Counseling from NC State University, and has extensive professional experience in counseling, program development, and clinical supervision. Read more.

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