Are you in a mixed political marriage?
Do your children/parents have opposing political beliefs from you and it’s driving you crazy?
Has stress in the house over politics become too much to bear?
Do you feel misunderstood and silenced by your partner/family members about your political leanings?
Here is a typical comment I hear from a client seeking couples coaching: “My husband and I are total opposites politically and it's affecting our marriage. We bicker over which news channel to watch and the upcoming election is causing more fights about issues. I just can't stomach that he voted the way he did. I've lost respect for him but I don't want our relationship to suffer. What can we do?”
In December 2016, a poll of 6000 people found that 16% of those who responded stopped talking to a friend or family member as a direct result of the election. 17% also said they blocked friends or family on social media for the same reasons.
Wakefield Research, a marketing firm, also conducted a similar survey. Their in-depth study of 1000 “nationally representative U.S. adults” found comparable results.
The collected data indicates that 11% of Americans, more than one in ten, have ended relationships over political differences.
For younger generations, this number climbs steeply.
- According to the responses, 22% of Millennials, more than one-fifth, have ended a romantic relationship because of political strife.
- 22% of people in the Wakefield survey know someone “whose marriage or relationship has been negatively impacted specifically due to President Trump’s election.” Again, this number skyrockets for younger people.
- The number spikes to 35% for Millennials.
You may be surprised how many couples have come to see me for counseling about this exact issue. Our country has become so divided politically that it has in extreme cases broken apart marriages and family relationships. Given the upcoming primaries and elections, it's important to figure out a way to weather the political storms together!
Luckily, I'm a Gottman educator, so I know that it is not essential for romantic partners or family members to be exactly the same in every way (religiously, personality type or politically), in order to stay together and/or in love. Conversely, there are also couples who look extremely compatible on paper, but end up splitting despite these unifiers.
There definitely are many couples that have polar opposite political beliefs that easily stay happy and in love. How do they do it?
The key is the WAY you talk about your differences, not the differences themselves. Specifically this means learning to avoid what the Gottman's call “gridlock” when discussing politics. According to the Gottman’s, here are some of the signs you may be gridlocked politically:
- The discussion makes you feel rejected by your partner.
- You keep discussing politics but make no progress.
- You become "dug-in" over your positions and will not budge.
- Your conversations about politics are devoid of humour, amusement or affection.
- You become even more gridlocked over time, which leads you to vilify each other during these conversations.
- You become less willing to compromise.
- Eventually you disengage from each other emotionally.
If you see these signs in your relationship, don't despair! There's a way to get out of gridlock without selling yourself out or changing your vote.
In brief, there are several changes you can make together to get out of political gridlock, the most important of which are:
- Soften your conversation start-up. A soft start-up is characterized by empathy and respect rather than blame, hurt and anger. Example of a hard political start-up: “I can’t believe you voted the way you did - I have totally lost respect for you”. Example of a soft political start up: “Honey, I respect and love you, even if I don’t agree with you politically. Let’s try to find a way to discuss the issues where we both feel heard.”
- Learn to make and receive repair attempts. A repair attempt is another way to say “making amends” or apologizing. For example, if your dad comes to you and says: “I didn’t mean to call you ignorant yesterday during the TV debate. I get really hot under the collar when politics comes up and I’m going to try to do better next time.”, it is healthier for your relationship for you to acknowledge his repair attempt rather than reject it.
- Soothe yourself and each other. If you are in a political discussion and either person seems to be “flooding” (heart racing, “seeing red”, raised voice, etc), try to breathe deeply, hold the other person’s hand, and suggest a time out until emotions are calmer.
- Find common ground. Try to find underlying goals that you and your parents/partner/children may share, even though the methods and ideas on how to get there may differ. For example, you may both be very concerned about the safety of the country, electing the best people to office, and protecting your family from harm. Try to focus on those common goals that you share, even if you don’t agree with the methods.
- Look for hidden dreams and/or fears underlying your loved one’s beliefs and show respect and caring for them. Maybe your loved one wants greatly to succeed and fears poverty, or was bullied when they were young and wants to protect others from that type of treatment. Try to talk to each other about what specifically about their life experience may be leading them to hold the beliefs with which you disagree, and find your empathy for them there.
Usually with some good coaching couples can learn these steps and get out of political gridlock. I've seen it happen personally with the couples I've counseled in my practice!
By the way, these techniques are also extremely helpful in working through perpetual problems such as:
- stress with in-laws
- differences in handling expenses and money
- bickering over chores, housework and parenting
- not being on the same page about sex
The best part is that these techniques and coaching can be learned and used successfully in a matter of weeks, not months or years! It may be a good idea to sign-up for a Gottman coaching 8-week course so you can get through election season peacefully and with love! For more information, feel free to sign up here for a free 15 minute couples discovery call.