In these tough times of economic and political turmoil, with a critical Presidential election right around the corner, everyone is talking politics. Hot political debate is being fueled around the dinner table, over coffee, over drinks, and at parties. The upcoming election is in the air!
But what about couples who are in different political parties with opposing points of view? Can they live happily ever after?
It depends on several issues:
1. Maturity. The more mature a person is, the more able they are to “get out of themselves” and really listen to and respect their partner’s political position, without viewing it as a personal attack against them. The ability to keep an open mind without compromising one’s beliefs, respecting the other person’s point of view, and being able to agree to disagree, the more likelihood of a successful relationship with differing political beliefs.
2. Behavior, Values, and Beliefs. How much does politics influence the behavior of each person? If the person's values and beliefs are so different and rigid from their partner’s, it will be more difficult to have a healthy relationship. However, the political differences can be an opportunity to turn a potentially divisive, hostile, and destructive conversation into one of hearing, dialoguing, seeing another perspective, and learning about each other.
3. Kindness. How does each partner treat the other when politics is not involved? Can each person in the partnership be compassionate, let go of political issues, and drop down to intimacy, without residual effects of the political argument? For example, can you disagree wholeheartedly but then go out to dinner and talk about something besides politics, without holding grudges or making snide remarks about the previous political argument?
4. Honesty and Trust. The higher the feelings of honesty and trust in the relationship, the better chance the couple has at accepting and tolerating different political views.
5. Unresolved Issues. Are there any unresolved issues in the relationship that could be escalating the political differences? For example, a woman feels like her partner doesn't take her seriously because she's had less education than he has. She frequently feels put down and minimized by him. Lacking her own self-confidence and given her sensitivity to his opinion of her, once they start disagreeing about politics, her feelings of insecurity and being put down escalate. At some point, the discussion about being a democrat or a republican with differing views turns into a hostile disagreement, because she feels it's one more time that he isn't taking her seriously. Before they know it, every argument they've had prior to this will be present in the political argument. Therefore, the more you resolve past issues and know your trigger points, the less likely political disagreements will turn into hurtful shouting matches.
If you really love someone but don't see eye-to-eye politically, it can be an opportunity to deepen the relationship and actually create more intimacy. But it takes understanding, an open mind, and some work. The lines of communication need to stay open 90% of the time. Each person has to get out of themselves a little and be willing to see the bigger picture of their relationship - not just politics. Having opposing political views is also an opportunity to see that although you may differ about politics, you aren’t too far apart in morals and values to have a healthy relationship.
The following tips are important to remember if you have different political views and want to stay happily married:
• Keep the lines of communication open 90% of the time.
• Be willing to see the bigger picture of the relationship, not just politics.
• Look at resolving relationship issues that could be escalating the political differences.
• Ask yourselves, "How much do I have invested in the relationship?" "How much do I want to work on accepting our differences?" and "What is my tolerance level for differences?"
Also known as the "last ditch effort therapist," Sharon M. Rivkin, therapist and conflict resolution/affairs expert, is the author of Breaking the Argument Cycle: How to Stop Fighting Without Therapy and developer of the First Argument Technique, a 3-step system that helps couples fix their relationships and understand why they fight. Her work has been featured in O Magazine, O Newsletter, Reader's Digest, Time.com, Prevention.com, and WebMD.com. She's an expert at HitchedMag.com, where she contributes monthly articles on hot relationship topics. She's appeared on TV, Martha Stewart Whole Living Radio, and makes regular radio appearances nationwide. For more information, please visit www.sharonrivkin.com.