Relationships: Should politics be pushed aside?
Dear Lori and Jeff,
We need some advice and tools for learning how to coexist peacefully with diverging political views. We’ve been married for 27 years and love each other very much. When we met, neither of us was politically inclined, though one of us leaned more conservative and the other more liberal. Over the last few years, we’ve both been paying more attention to what’s going on nationally, and our opinions have grown stronger in opposing directions. Sometimes it feels like we don’t even know who the other is. How do we keep our marriage strong when it seems our values have become so different?
— Red and Blue
Dear Red and Blue,
Lori and Jeff: An elephant and donkey can do more than simply coexist in the pasture — if they are willing to recognize their similarities are bigger than their differences.
Jeff: There are really two variables in your situation that would significantly affect my response. The first is whether or not your current political views were pre-existing (but hadn’t yet been evoked by a particular political climate) or if they have developed as a result of changing personal values and beliefs.
If it’s the former, you may have a greater challenge in resolving your differences because the stances you are both taking now are rooted in much deeper patterns of belief. This scenario may require you to have the “deal-breaker” conversation — an opportunity to honestly assess whether or not particular personal aspects (political beliefs, values, life plans, etc.) are things you ultimately are willing to accept about your partner even if they are different from your own.
If it’s the latter, you will need to name it a significant transition in your relationship (like getting married, having children, becoming empty nesters and retirement) and have a renegotiation around how you will work through the changes and your diverging views. It may be, if you can’t see eye-to-eye on current political issues, that you agree to leave those discussions and interactions out of the relationship.
Another question to consider is whether this political divergence is a manifestation of something deeper. It’s often easier to take sides with something external like politics and avoid more internal issues that may be pulling you apart.
Lori: When we align with a candidate, politician or party, it’s rarely about them specifically and more often about what they represent. While we tend to approach politics from an analytical perspective — exploring ideas, policies and proceedings from the head — we often attach to these matters from the heart. Political decisions have implications to us personally, and it is our emotions that are really driving our debates. Take time to tune into the stories tied to your political proclivities. What hopes, dreams or beliefs do they represent? What fears and vulnerabilities are each of you experiencing in the current political climate? Move the focus away from Washington and recenter on what’s happening inside for each of you. Take time to hear each other’s wants, needs and fears and bring compassion back to your conversations.
Lori and Jeff: At the core, most of us want the same things for our families and ourselves: safety, security and the opportunity to prosper. The realm of politics is currently triggering for many of us, and seemingly more divisive by the minute. We think you’d benefit by stripping off the political labels and focus on what makes you special to each other.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query may be selected for a future column.