The Marriage Unpolitic: When Love Trumps Being Right
In the end, you cancel out the other's votes anyway.
Posted Jan 06, 2020
“In some ways, we will always be different. In other ways, we will always be the same.” —Vironika Tugaleva
Life can sometimes get in the way, no matter how we try to deny it. How we deal with it is another matter. I say this as I look back at 2019, a year that had a number of surprises and presented all of us with a whole lotta divisiveness.
My husband of nearly 15 years, partner of 18 years, and friend for 40 years did not check in with me on the state of his politics when we fell madly in love with one another nearly two decades ago. Somehow the courtship left no room for a lot of posturing, with both of us caring for ailing parents and then throwing ourselves at one another whenever we could as if each meeting were a mini-honeymoon.
After the big caretaking issues disappeared, however, we settled into our marriage (my second, his first), bought a home, and began thinking about growing old together. We were, after all, already halfway there. That’s when politics finally came up. I was to find he leaned one way, and I leaned the other. The discussions were unpleasant, with both of us in disbelief over the “intelligence” level of the other, both of us having different recollections of history, and both of us vowing to convince the other he or she was dead wrong.
Some of our friends who found we were so far apart on the issues often asked us how we did not let this come between us, and I began to believe we were an anomaly. So I scoured the internet to see if indeed any other couples were like us. Among others, I found a New York Times article by contributing writer Josephine Sedgwick in When You’re in Love with your Political Opposite. The title tagline read like a Valentine: “You vote red, I vote blue; debate is hot, and so are you.” She looked for couples willing to bridge the partisan divide and asked them how they did it.
One of her respondents summed it up this way: “Every day I read the news and know that my husband’s reaction is likely the complete opposite of mine. I would prefer not to talk about it, but he loves to debate. It gives me daily anxiety to try and formulate my side of the argument before it happens, and I breathe a slight sigh of relief if it doesn’t end up being a topic of conversation.”
Despite being of the same hyphenated ethnic background, my other half and I grew up with different fear zones and family dynamics. We also were in disparate lines of work. One of us was the good foot soldier as a kid, getting along to get along, and the other the risk-taker, often getting in trouble for coloring outside the lines and being overly opinionated.
As I mentioned, one disliked change and abhorred conflict, and the other experimented with it, but never saw it as a dealbreaker. We are not polar opposites—we do agree on a few things and sometimes vote against the same people and causes. At least we like to keep that fantasy alive. We just value different things, patriotically speaking.
It took several years of early married life to resign ourselves to the idea that politics would not divide us. It was scary at first. In the end, however, we agreed not only to disagree but also to never bring it up in front of one another.
What we did divide and conquer was the practice of respecting the other’s right to get their news from sources they believed in, even with some skepticism on both our parts regarding what was news and what surely wasn’t. After all the shouting had become a memory, we were faced with one fact: The only control we have is over how we vote. And yes—we laugh about how we might very well cancel one another’s votes out each year.
This was not easy at first. I came from a boisterous but loving family that hides no opinions, so having heated discussions did not mean we held grudges. Sitting down to one of our mother’s meals together was much more important than getting the last word in, and arguing was not tolerated during meals. Twenty minutes later, it's as if no yelling had ever taken place.
My spouse, on the other hand, considered any type of arguing as a stress-causing reason to withdraw. To him, there was no such thing as “healthy conflict.” There was only the ulcer-causing gut-wrenching kind. I had to learn to go with his flow instead of doing my usual venting, and now I find myself exhibiting less drama about a lot of things, even apart from politics. It was a good path to take and serves me well as I age to the point where I just don’t need the intellectual calisthenics any more.
2019 was a tough year for shutting up about what was going on in the nation. When something came up of great importance, it was hard not to want to shoot the other one an email or a text, or ask a question like, “Did you hear about…?” But we have survived, even if it has been agonizing at times. And no matter whether we discuss our beliefs or not, I know it won’t change how the other feels. At one point, I even academically studied how childhood, environment, and life circumstances can color how each of us leans one way or the other. While it’s a fascinating psychological study, it doesn’t really matter in the big scheme of things.
I married a man that was fully formed. And since I love him with all my heart, I understand how some of his beliefs not only counter mine but also fill in spaces in me that no doubt need to be occupied. Occasionally, my attitude can color his perception, as well. It’s an unspoken feeling, and we let it wash over one another whenever it happens, hoping we have each offered the other food for thought.
As 2020 enters our existence, we will continue to worry about one another, encourage one another, and flirt outrageously with one another as long as our health will allow. How do we do this? We both agree that letting something like politics affect any of what we have together would be the real sin.
As one couple responded in the New York Times article, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be in a relationship?”