Political Differences in Couples
Six strategies for coping.
Posted February 19, 2017
Nearly one third of all married couples in the United States consist of individuals with conflicting party affiliations.If you and your spouse disagree about politics, you are not alone.
In March of 2016, over 18 million married couples across the United States were interviewed ( http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/how-many-republicans-marry-democrats/ ). The resulting data indicated that 55% of married couples are either “Democrats only” or “ Republicans only”. The authors of the study refer to this as a “matched partisan pair”. Another 15% were identified as "Independent married to Independent”, which was considered to be a “matched non-partisan pair”. This leaves the remaining 30% labeled as a "mis-matched partisan pair", meaning a "Democrat with a Republican" or an "Independent with a Democrat or a Republican."
The 2016 campaign year and the ongoing political divisions in American society have been particularly difficult for couples with opposing ideologies. Concerns include questions of how to avoid feeling enraged by extreme differences of opinion, and how to manage increased anxiety levels about events unfolding daily. For more insight into the feelings of anger which are sometimes provoked, see this by Samantha Rodman : http://www.huffingtonpost.com/samantha-rodman-phd/my-husband-and-I-disagree_b_6554844.html. In my psychotherapy sessions, I also hear frequent reports of loneliness from individuals whose political views are not shared by their partner.
There are a variety of ways to cope with the practical and the emotional challenges inherent in these differences. One useful strategy is to establish a “politics-free zone” in your home. Most likely, both you and your spouse will appreciate the opportunity to relax at home and not have to be defending your opinions about matters of public policy. This might be a space in the home or a part of the day, such as late evening, when you both agree to avoid political discussions.
When you do get into a heated discussion, there are a number of guidelines that will minimize the potential damage to your relationship:
1. Stick to facts rather than hearsay or rumor. I know this may be easier said than done in the current environment, in which different news sources report different “facts”, while other news is arbitrarily dismissed as “fake news.”
2. Avoid ridiculing your partner. This is standard advice for couples (Gottman,1999), but may take extra attention when the temptation is to call him/her out for making what seems to you to be a ridiculous argument.
3. Allow the other person to have their convictions, regardless of whether or not you can agree with them. Like so many other couples’ disagreements, it doesn’t matter very much who is “right”. Each person needs to be heard and understood.
4. Listen for the intention behind the other person’s proposed solutions to problems. For example, maybe you have completely different ideas about which policies would lead to a more peaceful, better world. You might focus on his/her intent of improving the lives of yourselves, your neighbors, or your children. If your methods are completely different, that may not be something you will ever agree upon.
5. Learn to let it go when you become overly distressed by political arguments. Walk away and cool off! Use good judgement as to how and when to shift your focus away from politics.
6. Keep a perspective on the differences. You are a couple who made a commitment for many reasons. If the only thing you strongly disagree about is politics, you are very fortunate!
Ever wonder how James Carville (Democratic strategist/ commentator) and Mary Matalin (Republican consultant) have had such a long and successful marriage? They managed not only to stay happily married for 23 years, but to even collaborate in writing a book about their life together. Remember all of the common values that brought you together in the first place. There are plenty of other things besides politics to talk about.
Carville, J., & Matalin, M. (2014). Love & War: Twenty Years, Three Presidents, Two Daughters, and One Louisiana Home. New York: Penguin Group.
Gottman, J. (1999). The Marriage Clinic: A Scientifically-based Marital Therapy. New York: WW Norton & Co.