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.
Argue the Right Way
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. That means:
- 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 calmer place.
Balance 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.
Try 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.
Set Some Boundaries
It’s 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!”
Well, that might be wishful thinking. But if you do think there’s some potential for your husband to move closer to you politically, I recommend reading law professor Ozan Varol’s essay “Facts Don’t Change People’s Minds. Here’s What Does.”
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.