Politics And Marriage

Politics And Marriage

This article originally appeared on YourTango.com on August 9, 2016

When the whole country is fighting, what's a couple to do?

This year’s presidential race promises to be the most contentious in the past 188 years — that is, since Andrew Jackson was elected.

With mud-slinging from both sides, you can’t get away from the story.

It seems we’ve broken down into two camps: "Anybody But Hillary" and "Anybody But Trump."

If you and your partner are on opposing sides of this — dare I say it? — WALL, it can wreak havoc on your relationship .

I come home at night to a husband who’s been watching Fox News , and sometimes I just want to turn around and go out again.

So, what hope is there? Can you be like some couples who are "making it," despite being on opposite sides of the aisle ?

Your odds depend on these 5 criteria:

1. How much you each identify with "your" party.

If you’re a "weak" Democrat or Republican, your self-image may not be threatened by your partner having a different opinion. You may still have very strong opinions and feelings, but it doesn’t threaten your sense of who you are . On the other hand, if your political status is a deep part of your sense of self, you may not be able to tolerate someone who sees things differently.

I’ve heard people referring to "those Republicans" as if they were saying, "those Devils from Hell." That seems like a pretty strong opinion to overcome in a relationship.

2. Which stage your relationship is currently in.

If you haven’t known each other long and you’ve met in the middle of this kerfluffle (or pitched battle, if you prefer), the odds are against you. You don’t have enough invested in the partnership to make it worth the effort.

On the other hand, if you’ve been with one another for a number of years and have already weathered some life crises , you have more to lose, and more reason to take the time to address the conflict seriously. Your odds are better.

3. How you do with "slow thinking."

"Fast thinking" is what we do almost all the time: deciding which banana to buy, or when to cross the street. It’s also involved in sudden emotional reactions and quick assessments of situations. Without "fast thinking," we’d be paralyzed.

In contrast, " slow thinking " is a practice of remaining curious about a subject, and interested in parsing the pros and cons. It requires a willingness to gather facts (as opposed to opinions) and to weigh them carefully. Slow thinking would involve researching the candidates, their histories and their affiliations. It could lead us to investigate (and argue) issues, rather than personalities. It also could include considering what you really know about your partner and HIS history.

Too often, the less people know, the more they are likely to cling to their beliefs. Ben Franklin said , "A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still."

4. How important the issue — as opposed your relationship — is to you.

The election, of course, is important. Is it MORE important than other parts of your relationship? These political arguments are about the future — we’re each afraid of what will happen if the "wrong" candidate is elected. Can you really predict the future ? Can I? Are we fighting over our alarming fantasies ?

From my observation, fear of the future is the bedrock underneath these fights. The world has become a terrifying place, especially since the turn of the century. My husband was a Democrat until 9/11. Now he’s a Neo-Con. We want our government to protect us from disaster (whether it actually can or not). We also want a return to the innocent society we had before that rude awakening.

Terror and rage share a great deal in terms of brain chemistry.

5. How well you can tolerate being different from each other.

This may be the most important question of all, since it informs all of your relationship, not only politics . This is a question for every relationship, when the honeymoon is over, and you begin to realize that you are NOT a "perfect" match. (People can get into pretty intense arguments about the toilet seat!)

Can you love each other without having to agree? And can you manage — albeit very carefully — to explore one another’s beliefs? That’s the ideal. But if you can agree to disagree, that’ll do. After a long conflict with her partner, columnist Lyz Baranowski commented, "Seeing how he handled the situation showed me that he was a man I could fight with for as long as we both shall live."

You don’t have to be really good at all these things to preserve your relationship. In fact, if you are both willing to stick with the conflict, you’ll learn skills that you can use throughout your life together. You’ll learn to pick your battles, and set priorities.

Oh, and if you’re wondering about MY marriage , we’ve been together for 50 years, and we’ve weathered a lot more than a presidential election. Sometimes I walk away when he’s spouting rhetoric, sometimes I change the channel. Sometimes I just smile. Over the long haul, I know he’s a stubborn man, and I’m probably not going to change his mind .

And I vote.

Cheryl Gerson, LCSW, BCD , is a couples counselor and psychotherapist in New York City. She has been in practice for over 25 years, and would love to share some of what she's learned with you.  Call for a free 20-minute telephone consultation .

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