The 2016 election was one of the most contentious and polarizing in memory. Unfortunately for some, that polarizing effect came home to roost, with some couples sitting on opposite sides of the political spectrum. So how do you handle that, especially with a day associated with togetherness and relationships, Valentine’s Day, on the horizon?
Marjorie Nightengale is a PhD student in the College of Nursing and Health Professions’ Couples and Family Therapy program who also runs her own private practice. Here, she lays out some strategies for surviving post-election fallout that some couples are dealing with.
“How could you have voted for him?!” is a surefire way to lob a grenade into the middle of your relationship if you voted for her. It is about as inflammatory as it gets and not an argument you ever want to have. But, what do you do if you and your partner are at opposite ends of the political spectrum? Can a relationship survive strongly opposing political beliefs?
When Bill Clinton’s democratic strategist James Carville met George Bush’s deputy campaign chief, Mary Matalin, during the 1992 presidential election, they were at political war. The two clashed regularly on the campaign trail and their battles were vicious. However, instead of drawing blood and returning to their respective corners to seethe in hate, they went to the other extreme and got married! In their book, Love & War: Twenty Years, Three Presidents, Two Daughters and One Louisiana, the two share how each managed to hold their ideological ground while having a successful marriage.
If you don’t have time to read the book, here are some quick tips:
- Set ground rules. Create a “no politics” space in your relationship. It could be agreeing not to discuss politics the last thing before bed or first thing in the morning, or, better yet, only on Tuesdays, between 12 and 2 p.m., when you know you have some other regular obligations to distract you.
- Practice active listening. This requires that you pay attention to what the other person says. You cannot suck your teeth, roll your eyes, or form your articulate, scathing and belittling response. If you’re doing any of those, you’re not really listening. You know you are listening if you can count the syllables in every fifth word. Well, maybe you aren’t necessarily listening, but, at least, you look like it.
- Agree to disagree. This is the dumb stuff that therapists like me tell you. If you could do this, you would not be fighting in the first place. It is like asking a five year old in the middle of an epic meltdown to take a deep breath and count to ten. It is not going to happen, but it’s nice to try.
- Don’t put your partner down to other people. You can put down people who think like your partner, but not him or her. Those evil words seem to hang in the air and follow you home, the same way the “fragrance” of that guy on the train who forgot his deodorant hangs in your nostrils even when you get away from him. You can’t escape the stink!
- Try having the debate in a whisper. It really is hard to be fierce when you whisper and when you are trying not to spit on your partner at the same time. You have to strain to hear anything anyway and this might help with point no. 2 above.
However, if you are fighting all of the time, perhaps you have discovered that you don’t share the same values. If so, you may not know what to do next. Professional help from a therapist experienced in couples and family therapy may be able to help you negotiate the chasm. (But I obviously have to say that).
Happy Valentine’s Day! (Good luck).
Media interested in talking to Nightengale should contact Frank Otto at 215.571.4244 or firstname.lastname@example.org.