When Trump was elected President in 2016, Wakefield Research found 1 in 10 couples ended relationships over their political differences. For millennials, it was twice that. With the next presidential election upon us, many wonder if marriages with different political views can survive the increased volatility of the times.
Susan and Darrell* have been married for more than a decade. In that time, they have experienced two presidential elections where they each voted for opposite sides of the aisle. If you ask them how their marriage is today, they will tell you it’s great…
But how can your marriage be great when you disagree on such huge issues?
Susan and Darrell certainly aren’t alone when it comes to being on opposite sides of the political spectrum. Nearly 30% of married households are bipartisan. In fact, there are some pretty well-known, long-married couples who have navigated these waters for years. Take James Carville, a Democrat and Mary Matalin, a Republican. Married since 1993, Carville says in Love & War: Twenty Years, Three Presidents, Two Daughters and One Louisiana Home, which he co-authored with his wife, “I’d rather stay happily married than pick a fight with my wife over politics.”
That right there is the key. A study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships (Explaining the impact of differences in voting patterns on resilience and relational load in romantic relationships during the transition to the Trump presidency) found that couples who actively maintain their relationship are better able to “weather the storm” of an election because they build up positive emotions that protect the relationship during difficult times. So, even if you vote differently, actively maintaining your relationship can help you keep feeling emotionally connected to each other and reduce the propensity for stress and conflict.
For example, in an interview with U.S. News and World Report, Mary Matalin shares that she and her husband have many interests other than politics that they enjoy doing together like fishing, cooking and learning about history. “Talking about the impact of the minimum wage is just not something that is high on our list of fun things to do,” she says.
What does this mean for couples who find themselves with opposing political perspectives? Susan and Darrell, along with other couples in the same political boat say this: “Instead of allowing your political differences to divide you, see it for what it is and don’t allow it to take center stage in your marriage. There are a lot of things we agree on and enjoy doing together. We choose to focus on those things.”
When you find that you and your mate differ on things like politics, these tips can help you navigate through those differences for the good of your marriage:
- Avoid trying to change your spouse. Trying to get your spouse to change will only create angst in your marriage. You can appreciate the fact that they are active in the political process and exercise their right to vote (just like you), which is a really good thing and not something to take for granted.
- Know that every married couple has issues they agree to disagree on for the duration of their marriage. Let politics be one of them.
- Focus on why you married them in the first place.
- Build up those positive emotions that protect your marriage. Compliment your spouse. Speak kindly about them to others. Be intentional about focusing on the things you love about your spouse and your relationship.
- Rein in negativity. The more you think negative thoughts about your differences, the more you teach your brain to think negatively about your spouse. This is a dangerous downward spiral that can take you places you do not want to go.
- Appreciate ways that you are not the same. Differing opinions and perspectives can offer depth and the ability to practice empathy in a relationship.
- Put safeguards in place such as agreeing that you aren’t going to talk about politics and you for sure are not going to chide your spouse about their political persuasion.
- Remember what matters most. Your marriage is more important than many differences you have, including politics. It will likely outlast any president’s tenure.
- Be respectful. Even when you disagree with your spouse, you can still be respectful. (Here’s why respect matters.)
A pandemic + a struggling economy + an election all in the same year can = frayed nerves, anxiety and an unusual level of sensitivity.
These things can magnify differences in your marriage that normally wouldn’t be a big deal. Knowing that this moment in time is especially extraordinary and putting some safeguards in place can protect your marriage. This allows you to focus on the goals you have set for your marriage… even when you disagree.
*names have been changed.