We live in politically divisive times. And those
divisions even find their way into our marriages.
According to one study, 29 percent of Americans who were either married or in a relationship said today’s political climate causes tension with their partner.
If you and your husband disagree politically,
you might feel like you’re trapped in one of those cable news shows where
ideological rivals just keep shouting over each other. Or you might be
simmering silently, aghast and puzzled at his opinions.
Either way, your diverging beliefs may be creating distance between you. And that can lead to deeper problems if you don’t find a way to manage your differences.
You can still have a successful marriage if the two of you argue over politics sometimes. Political conflicts become a problem only if you handle them in ways that are detrimental to your marriage. It’s especially important to never show contempt for each other when you’re disagreeing over politics — or anything else, for that matter. Contempt is one of the biggest red flags that your relationship is in trouble.
Instead, handle political disagreements in your
marriage the same way you would other types of conflict: with respect and love.
Don’t bring up points of political disagreement when you are
tired, irritated or feel like you can’t control yourself — or when you can tell
that your husband is experiencing one of those states.
Pause, hold hands and make eye contact when you’re disagreeing.
When you are in touch with the humanity of your partner, you’ll be less likely
to say things you will regret later.
If things get too heated, take a timeout so you can both get to a
Conflict With Positivity
You can counteract some of the damage that political conflicts in your marriage cause by actively making an effort to remember all that is positive about your partner and your marriage. I’ve written before about how John Gottman discovered that spouses in successful marriages share more positive interactions than negative ones—a lot more. Happy, long-married couples have 20 positive interactions for every negative one. Even when they’re in conflict, their ratio is still five positives for every negative.
That’s something to keep in mind if politics are
a source of negativity in your marriage. When the two of you are regularly
kind, respectful and appreciative with each other, political conflicts will be
easier to navigate.
Reducing Your Overall Stress
If political differences with your husband are
pushing your buttons more than usual lately, remember that your marriage is
being affected by outside forces. In other words, your problems aren’t solely
caused by issues between the two of you.
First, it’s not your imagination that the overall political climate has grown more polarized and divisive. The society that we live in always has some influence on our relationships. And, in this case, that impact is turning up the heat around political differences we might have glossed over in the past.
Then there’s everyday stress. In a 2018 survey by the American Psychiatric Association, about 40 percent of Americans said they had grown more anxious in the past year. When we’re more stressed, we tend to magnify the negative traits we see in our partners. So, as an experiment, try focusing on reducing your stress and see if that affects how you feel about your political differences.
perfectly fine if the two of you just decide to agree to disagree about
politics and not discuss the issues that get you heated.
That’s what’s working for one of the couples in a New York Times article about partners with opposing political beliefs:
The next morning (after
the 2016 election), with tears in my eyes, I told Nisim we were going to have
to get divorced because I could not live with him for the next four years. He
said, “Honey, we’re not going to get divorced. We’re just not going to talk
about politics for the next four years.”
Get Curious and Listen
For other couples, though, it can be beneficial to try to better understand each other’s beliefs. We tend to assume an awful lot about other people, even our spouses, based on how they vote. But just because someone supports a political party or official on one stance, doesn’t mean that they wholeheartedly embrace everything in that party or official’s agenda. Having the courage to get curious and to listen deeply can help you get past any assumptions you are holding about each other’s political opinions. It can also help you decide whether your spouse’s beliefs are ones you simply dislike or whether they violate your deep values (in which case the issues with your marriage probably go beyond the scope of this article).
Remember That Facts
Don’t Change Minds
Right now, you might be thinking, “That’s
great and all. But it would be even greater if he could just change his mind
and agree with me politically!”
Varol writes that facts don’t sway our opinions
because “we tend to undervalue evidence that contradicts our beliefs and
overvalue evidence that confirms them. We filter out inconvenient truths and arguments
on the opposing side.”
The article also explores how no one likes to
admit they were wrong. And sometimes people just dig in harder when we try to
convince them of the error of their political ways.
It’s more effective, Varol says, to give the
other person an out that lets them save face.
Finally, I want to leave you with a quote from the minister Joseph Fort Newton: “People are lonely because they build walls, instead of bridges.” I hope this article inspires you to build a bridge over the political differences between you, rather than a wall, especially if other parts of your marriage are going well.
ever opened an exchange with your husband by using phrases like these?
take the trash out!”
you to join us finally!”
talk about why you were being such a jerk to our friends?”
fault she was late to school this morning. Why are you so irresponsible?”
to tell me when you’re going to get your act together.”
The ensuing conversation didn’t go well, did it? Pioneering marriage researcher John Gottman calls statements like the ones above “harsh startups.” You can also think of them as “emotional bombs.” When you lob one, you’re going to provoke your spouse to either retreat or return fire. Either way, you’re not going to resolve your conflict.
You’ll reach a more constructive solution if
you can avoid initiating a discussion with a surprise attack of criticism and
sarcasm. But, as you know, sometimes those words slip out of your mouth before
you know what has happened. And even though you might be speaking
thoughtlessly, emotional bombs can still do lasting damage.
Busy and Harsh
It was probably very obvious to you even before
you read this article that harsh startups aren’t an effective way to initiate a
conversation. So why do we keep engaging in them?
You’ll be more prone to throwing emotional bombs at your husband when you’re under a lot of stress. And with the busy schedules of today’s families, that seems like most of the time, right? Unfortunately, when stress goes up, self-awareness goes down. We become more easily provoked and worse at tuning into what’s going on with other people. When we’re overwhelmed with emotion, we get so wrapped up in our own stuff that we can dehumanize others and say harsh things.
Bombs Destroy Safety
Maybe you’re wondering what the big deal is
about harsh startups. We all get crabby when we’re stressed, right? And he
knows you don’t mean it, doesn’t he?
Well hopefully he didn’t take your comments personally, but it’s also possible you inflicted real emotional pain. And our brains process emotional and physical pain in very similar ways. So, in a very real sense, your husband feels attacked when you unleash emotional bombs. Whether he reacts by retaliating or withdrawing, the atmosphere of safety that your relationship needs begins to erode, and the two of you grow farther apart.
How to Hold
Banishing harsh startups from your marriage is one of the best things you can do for the health of your relationship. That may all sound well and good right now, but the important thing is remembering this advice the next time you’re stressed and feel like lashing out as your husband.
To give yourself a better chance of holding your fire, see if there are ways to remove some pressure and stress from your life. Are there things you feel like you’re “supposed to” do or have that you could let go of so that you aren’t so overwhelmed? Easing up your expectations can also give you more time to care for yourself. When you rest more, practice healthier habits and nurture yourself, you’ll be less reactive to stress.
Finally, I know this isn’t easy, but remind yourself to pause when you’re in a situation that triggers you to drop emotional bombs and try to choose a different response. Not coincidentally, research shows that people in healthy relationships have brains that are good at controlling emotions.
Even if harsh startups are a longtime habit for you, you can start practicing a new approach today. My book Strong Women, Strong Love has more ideas for maintaining a happy marriage even amid our stressful lives.
What messages did you get about anger when you were growing up? I bet you heard statements like these:
Girls shouldn’t get so mad.
Don’t curse. It isn’t very ladylike.
Guys don’t like angry, bitter women.
Calm down. You’re being so dramatic..
The people who instilled this kind of thinking in us weren’t doing us any favors. Misconceptions about anger and a lack of healthy strategies for dealing with anger can damage your relationship. So, let’s get a fresh perspective on this intense emotion that you might fear and avoid.
When Anger Goes Wrong
Far too many women think anger is telling them something negative about themselves. Thanks to what they learned from their families of origin and our culture, they fear deep down that anger means they’re a bad, aggressive person. They believe that if they could just be “better” somehow that they wouldn’t get angry.
These beliefs lead to …
Tolerating behavior that makes you feel disrespected (for example, your husband habitually runs late) or even behavior that harms your family (like overspending).
Avoiding conflict at all costs. Never having an argument doesn’t improve your marriage. In fact, the opposite can happen if you are sweeping issues under the rug.
Withdrawing and becoming depressed. This happens when you lose any hope of getting your needs met.
Complaining. Complaints do give voice to your anger, but in a way that’s unlikely to get your husband to change what’s making you angry.
Mean-spirited venting with friends. Again, this might feel like you’re doing something with your anger. But you’re actually just cultivating contempt for your husband while avoiding the real issues.
We all have a breaking point. If you suppress anger long enough, you’re likely to lash out. When that happens, your words will be a lot more hurtful than the ones you would have chosen if you’d addressed your anger earlier.
How Anger Can Help You
You may not realize that anger doesn’t have to result in screaming and wounded feelings. It can actually help you improve your relationship. Anger also isn’t some indication of your character, or lack thereof.
The very wise psychologist and author Harriet Lerner recommends viewing anger as a warning signal. It reliably tells you when something is wrong and you need to take action to protect yourself.
To use anger in a positive way, first notice how you react when you notice angry feelings surfacing. If you tend to judge yourself (“Ugh, I shouldn’t be such a bitch”) or push your anger down (“No time to feel that now!), see if you can just let yourself feel the emotion without trying to judge it or squash it.
Instead of recoiling from your own anger, tune in and ask yourself what your anger is trying to communicate to you. Some common messages behind anger include:
When you have a handle on what’s causing your anger, you can act on it in a more effective way and use your anger as catalyst for positive change. For example, you can establish or affirm healthy boundaries around what you will do, how much you will give and what you will tolerate. You can lovingly but firmly stand up for what you need and what you expect.
Read More About Women and Anger
I won’t lie to you: While embracing your anger is liberating, it can also be an uncomfortable journey. All of those early messages are deeply ingrained in our minds, and our society still has some deeply messed-up attitudes about women and anger. To aid you in this work, I recommend Lerner’s book The Dance of Anger, as well as my own book, Strong Women, Strong Love.
The personal development classic The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz might not be your idea of romantic reading before Valentine’s Day. But I’ve been revisiting this book lately and thinking about what each of the agreements can tell us about how to show up in marriage.
Be Impeccable With Your Word
Words matter, so choose them carefully. Words can tear down your relationship when you use them to criticize, complain and belittle. And they can build your bond when you express love and appreciation.
Be especially careful about contempt. Speaking in a mean and disrespectful way with your spouse is the behavior most linked to eventual divorce. Remember that being truthful when you speak is important, but don’t be brutally honest because your words can still hurt.
So as Ruiz says, “Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.”
Don’t Take Anything Personally
Ruiz writes: “Don’t take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality. Their own dream.” And that includes your husband. Like you, he is a separate person with his own perspective on life, shaped by his own experience. The more you believe that being married means you must see everything the same way, you more you will find yourself having conflict with your husband. Take time to consider the different ways the two of you approach life. The more you understand how your husband views the world and why, the less you will feel that what he does is directed at you.
Don’t Make Assumptions
“Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama,” Ruiz writes in The Four Agreements. This is a huge deal in marriage. Don’t assume that your husband knows what you need and want. He came into marriage with his own set of expectations and assumptions, and they may be very different from the ones you grew up with.
Likewise, don’t assume that you know what’s going on with him or why he engages in a certain behavior. It’s more courageous and effective to get curious about him and ask questions that can bring you closer together.
Always Do Your Best
“Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick,” Ruiz says “Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.”
These are wise words for the different seasons of marriage. To expand on Ruiz’s words, doing your best will look different for newlyweds than it will for new parents. Sometimes it means being there for your partner in a crisis; sometimes it means celebrating him when things are going well. And sometimes it means allowing him to give more when you can’t. It all comes down to staying in tune with each other and showing up to the best of your ability.
If it’s been a few years since you’ve thought about “The Four Agreements,” Valentine’s Day is a great time to reread your copy and consider its wisdom in the context of your marriage. And if you’ve never read this book, I highly recommend it. When you’re picking up a copy, consider adding my own book, Strong Women, Strong Love, to your purchase. In it, you’ll find many more insights on marriage like the ones in this article.
Have you been feeling like life is just the “same old, same old” even though we’re in a new year? Getting stuck in a rut can happen all too easily, especially for busy wives and moms.
Why does this happen? Well, we can blame some people who are very important to us: our kids. Or, more accurately, we can blame a culture that’s obsessed with kids and parenting. When you see other parents laser-focused on providing the “best” for the kids (education, extracurriculars, birthday parties … you name it) no matter what it takes, it’s only natural to try to fall in line. We all want to feel a sense of belonging with our peers.
In this case, however, fitting in comes at a high cost. Losing yourself in kid-centered routines isn’t good for you, your marriage or even your children.
To restore balance to your life, it’s time to devote some energy to you. Consider these questions:
When is the last time you did something for yourself?
I’m betting it’s been too long. You don’t have to escape for a spa day to practice self-care. (Although I encourage you to do so if you can!) Even taking 10 minutes a day to be alone with your thoughts can be hugely beneficial.
When is the last time you did something you enjoyed?
Do you always do what your husband or kids want to do? Do you even remember what you like doing? Staying connected with your favorite hobbies, interests and other activities fills your well so that you can give to others. It can also help affair-proof your marriage.
When is the last time you tried something new?
Routines and structure are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you need them to keep your family life running smoothly. But, on the other hand, if you never deviate from your routines, the days can turn into one big, boring blur. Sharing a new experience with your husband — even something as simple as taking a cooking class together — can help rekindle the passion you felt earlier in your relationship.
When is the last time you took a risk?
I’m not talking about anything dangerous. I’m talking about being bold enough to step outside of your comfort zone in the way you relate to others. For example, it might feel risky to clearly ask for what you need from your husband instead of dropping hints, but the potential rewards are rich.
When is the last time you were just present?
Life moves fast, and our minds often fixate on a single question: What’s the next thing I need to get done? But when you live this way, you miss a lot. Spending more time out of your whirling thoughts and in the present moment can be enough to transform your life.
I hope that these ideas will help you break out of your rut and more fully savor 2019 with your husband and your family. For more practical strategies like these, pick up a copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love