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.
Back before Thanksgiving, you gave yourself an ultimatum: I’m just going to get through the holidays, and then I’m telling him it’s over. Now here we are in the new year, and it’s your moment of truth. You have to make the final call: Should you leave your husband?
This is one of the most wrenching decisions a woman can face. As you consider ending your marriage, know that you’re far from alone. Women are thought to initiate between 70 percent and 80 percent of divorces.
Some of those marriages, of course, are irretrievably broken. Others, though, could be saved. Without counseling you in person, I can’t know which category your own marriage falls into. But what can I do is give you some final questions to consider before you leave so that you can be at peace with your decision, whatever it turns out to be.
Did You Ask For What You Need?
I’m not talking about complaining. That’s all too common among women in unhappy relationships. And at some point, husbands just check out and stop hearing them. What works instead is speaking up clearly and kindly for what you need. Maybe that means negotiating a shift in the domestic workload. Or it could mean learning to be more clear about what you expect from your husband.
Did You Address the Serious Issues?
If you are leaving your husband because his addiction, abuse or mental impairment, have the two of you sought help for these specific issues? If you haven’t, is he willing to? (Please, please keep your own safety front and center as you consider this question.)
What Have You Learned?
Whether you decide to leave your husband or stay and work on your marriage, it’s important to understand what went wrong in your relationship, and the role that both of you have played in creating the current situation. It may seem like everything is all his fault, but most relationships are more complex than that. Working to better understand yourself, your husband and how you relate to each other could save your marriage. But even if go through with leaving your husband, you still need to do this difficult inner work. If you don’t, you could be setting yourself up for another failed relationship.
Your answers to these questions might affirm that divorce is right choice for you, or they could encourage you to give your marriage another shot. If you opt to stay for now, I encourage you to seek relationship counseling. You and your husband can also use the practical strategies in my book Strong Women, Strong Loveto start to repair your relationship.
If you were able to enjoy a more leisurely pace this summer, it’s probably becoming a distant memory now that September is here. If you have kids, you’ve taken care of back-to-school shopping. Now you’re filling the calendar with the kids’ school events and other activities while trying to keep the household running and juggling everyone’s packed schedules.
And you’re probably doing most of this on your own, right?
Researchers have long noted that women still spend more time on household chores and childcare than men do (although men are doing better than they did in the past). But there’s another aspect of inequality in domestic responsibilities that’s starting to come to the forefront. And that’s the idea of mental load.
What Is Mental Load?
Mental load encompasses all the planning, scheduling, strategizing and anticipating that go into managing your home and family. It’s all the information you routinely keep track of: your kids’ teachers, best friends and clothing sizes — and on and on. It’s the running list of errands or home projects you keep in your head.
Women carry a higher mental load than men do. Being the only person who knows what needs to be done is extra work for you — even if your husband happily helps with household tasks when you ask.
You might see a lot of yourself and your husband in “You Should’ve Asked,” a comic about the mental load by an artist known as Emma.
“When a man expects his partner to ask him to do things, he’s viewing her as the manager of household chores,” Emma writes. Being the household manager and organizer, she adds, is basically a full-time job.
Part of women’s mental load is also thinking more about the “big picture” than their male partners often do. Did you cringe at the scene in the comic where the woman asks her husband to take the baby’s bottle out of the dishwasher? He does — but leaves the rest of the clean dishes inside.
How to Share the Mental Load
Shouldering the majority of your household’s mental load over the long term is a recipe for resentment that will ultimately damage your marriage.
So how can you and your husband redistribute the mental load differently?
First, it’s always best to talk about the situation openly. He may notice that you’re stressed but not understand that this stress is related to your mental load — which means that he doesn’t know what needs to change. And if you’ve been dropping hints, it’s not a very effective way to communicate.
We all go into marriage with our own “scripts” about how things should be. Those scripts are shaped by the families we grew up with and by the culture as a whole. It’s easy to think that our script is the same as everyone else’s, but that isn’t the case. For example, your husband might assume that the way his parents’ marriage worked is just the way that all marriages work.
Remember, though, that inequities in how the two of you handle your family’s mental load could also stem from your script. As women, we grow up hearing lots of messages about how we should tirelessly devote ourselves to the needs of others.
Compare your scripts so that you can understand and empathize with where the other person is coming from. Once you’ve opened the conversation, the next step is working together to negotiate who is fully responsible for managing various tasks. Maybe that means he takes over planning meals and making the grocery list while you cook. Perhaps he takes the lead with your daughter’s gymnastics lessons while you manage her school activities. It doesn’t matter how you distribute the work. What’s important is that it feels fair to both of you.
If particular tasks need to be done by a certain time, identify the time frame so both of you have the same expectations. If one of you is better at a task, go ahead and play to your strengths and let that person be responsible for it. Same thing if you care more about a particular area — you should be the one in charge of it.
As more of the mental load shifts to your husband, you may find yourself having difficulty letting go. You will have to grapple with your own perfectionism or anxiety about not being in charge. If you find yourself micromanaging tasks that you both agreed he would manage, he’s likely to get upset with you.
You have to trust your husband and give him space to figure out his own system for managing his responsibilities. After all, he is an adult. He may not do things in the same way you do, or do them to your standards. But it’s healthier to redefine your definition of “good enough” than to continue to carry your whole family’s mental load.
Talking about mental load with your husband and working together on changes might not be easy. But it will improve your marriage and help you set a better example for your kids. If you’d like more practical advice on balancing marriage, family and career, you’ll enjoy my book Strong Women, Strong Love.
Your phone is probably never far from you. It keeps you connected to the office, to your kids, to what’s going on in the world. If you’re stressed, it’s there with a relaxing game or some cute puppy photos in your Instagram feed. It’s your partner in daily life — and that’s a problem.
As helpful as our phones are, technology can also be a source of tension in a relationship. According to one study, couples with high technology use reported more conflict and lower relationship satisfaction. The study even indicated that when one partner spends a lot of time using the phone, the other partner can feel more depressed. Another study echoes those findings. It concluded that people who describe their partners as dependent on their cell phones are less satisfied with their relationships.
Why do mobile phones have such a powerful effect? We can find the answer to this question in past research about what makes relationships succeed or fail.
It’s All About ‘Bids’
I’ve written many times in this blog about the work of John Gottman, who has extensively studied the behavior of married couples. One thing Dr. Gottman observed is that we all make “bids” for connection in our relationships. A bid is “any attempt from one partner to another for attention, affirmation, affection or any other positive connection.” When spouses respond to each other’s bids, they make deposits in the emotional bank account of their marriage. This is important, Gottman says, because successful couples have 20 positive deposits for every “withdrawal,” or negative interaction, in their relationship. If you and your husband regularly respond to each other’s bids for connection, you’re 88 percent more likely to stay married.
So where do our phones come in? As you’re probably all too aware, phones are powerful distractions. You don’t even have to be using your phone for it to steal your attention. When your focus is on your phone screen, you’re less aware of the world around you — and the people around you. That means you’re less likely to even notice your spouse’s bids, let alone respond to them. As a result, he may feel rejected, even if you didn’t intend to hurt his feelings.
How to Reclaim Your Relationship
If you’re worried that your phones are coming between you and your husband, what’s the solution? Admittedly, this isn’t an easy question. In just a couple of decades since they first became widely used, cell phones are now an inescapable part of life. But while you can’t get rid of your cell phone (and probably don’t even want to), you can change the way you relate to it so that it doesn’t detract from your marriage and other important relationships.
Above all, make it a priority to spend more time being truly present with each other. Now this doesn’t mean you have to book a two-week vacation at a remote beach resort without cell phone service. I’m talking about steps that are much more realistic. For example, put away phones when you and your husband reconnect with each other after work. Share a meal together while your phones are in the other room. Or when you are using your phone, take a moment to send a sweet note, rather than the grocery list. These may seem like little steps, but they can make a big difference in your marriage.
Finally, I want to leave you with an article from Thrive Global that really stayed with me. In it, psychotherapist Katherine Schafler cites the four questions that Maya Angelou believed we are unconsciously asking each other all the time:
Do you see me?
Do you care that I’m here?
Am I enough for you, or do you need me to be better in some way?
Can I tell that I’m special to you by the way that you look at me?
Angelou’s questions poignantly articulate an essential truth: We all need to be seen, to be affirmed, to be valued. We all need attention, reassurance and connection with each other. When you half-listen to your husband while you scroll through your Facebook feed, how are you answering these questions? And what are the answers you’re receiving from him if he’s checking headlines or email while you’re talking?
Don’t let the technology that keeps you plugged into the world rob you of true human connection. Always make connection a priority to keep your marriage strong. For more practical advice about maintaining your marriage amid our hectic, busy lives, check out my book Strong Women, Strong Love.
He’s talking a lot about his new co-worker. What if they’re having an affair? He always gets so mad when I ask him to do things at home. What if I push him too hard and he leaves? He isn’t taking care of himself like the doctor told him to. What if he gets really sick and I’m left to deal with things by myself?
Do you ever get scared and then lose yourself in doubts about your husband? Sometimes “what ifs” can be a sign that there are some trust issues in your marriage. But the person you mistrust may not be the one you think.
Is This Really Something to Worry About?
If you’re often troubled by worries like the ones above, a good first step is to investigate how valid your fears are.
Let’s take the example of that new co-worker your husband is chatting about. If you feel like this is part of a bigger pattern (he’s had an emotional affair before, there are other issues in your relationship), then there might indeed be reason for concern. But if he’s loyal, reliable and generally happy in your marriage, it’s a good sign that he is talking to you about her. He is probably worthy of your trust. Similarly, an irritated husband may be trustworthy, but simply overwhelmed by the pressures of work and just needing some breathing room, not a divorce.
If you can’t quell your anxieties even though you know on a rational level that they’re baseless, then it’s time to ask yourself another question.
Instead of pondering whether you trust him, consider whether you trust yourself.
The Root of Your Fears
When you’re constantly plagued by irrational fears about your husband, that insecurity may come from lack of trust in your own ability to handle life. On some level, you might literally believe you won’t be able to cope if he really is cheating (or if whatever other scenario you’re worried about turns out to be true).
It’s important to remember that everyone will let you down sometimes, in big or small ways. You can’t keep that from happening. But you can cultivate your own resilience and confidence in yourself. Without self-trust, you risk becoming clingy, needy, or jealous, making it much more likely your husband would need to get some distance from you. Desperation and mistrust are good ways to drive off even the best of men.
As psychotherapist and author Cynthia Wall writes, you have to trust yourself before you can develop trusting connections with others. Learning to take care of your own needs — something busy wives and moms often forget — helps build self-trust. So does being kind and compassionate with yourself, the opposite of the perfectionism that pervades our lives these days. Little crises with others, including your husband, will seem less catastrophic when you feel more confident in your own skills.
Reminding yourself that your husband can’t be there for you 100% may seem depressing at first, but doesn’t necessarily make him untrustworthy. Rationally examining his devotion to you is important. If you figure out that you have mistakenly assumed the worst about him, don’t forget that research affirms the power of couples to repair big and small rifts in their marriages. If others can do it, so can you!
One resource that can help you trust yourself and your relationship is my book Strong Women, Strong Love. In it, you’ll find many more practical strategies like the ones in this article.