With the current divisive American political climate, you may come to realize that you have fundamentally different political views than your spouse and with that, start wondering if it is really the politics sabotaging your marriage or something deeper.
I’ve lived in the U.S. for over 30 years. I am a naturalized citizen. I vote here and I do follow politics. From my perspective, there’s always been political differences and in presidential election years, it has been very heated. I recall Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Al Gore, and Barack Obama and John McClain and Mitt Romney.
But, I don’t think there has ever been as divisive a climate post-election as we have now and I see those political divisions spilling over into friendships and intimate relationships.
In a recent survey, the polling firm Wakefield Research, found that nearly 25 percent of respondents said they’d fought with their spouse or partner over politics since President Trump was elected.
I’ve seen dating profiles state not to contact the person if you voted for a specific candidate.
Are you and your spouse struggling with this political divide? What does such a difference really mean? Is a difference in politics reason to end your marriage? Are there strategies to bridge the divide?
For this Conversation, I’m joined by life coach Christine Khetarpal. Christine specializes in helping people find the clarity and confidence to decide whether to end their marriage. Listen in below or keep reading for a synopsis of our Conversation.
Why Are Politics Such An Issue Now?
Given that the political climate in the U.S. has often been conflictual, what is it about the present environment that makes it so contentious?
Khetarpal believes it has much to do with the impact of social media which exposes us all to what others are saying and perhaps more so than any time in history, to views that are significantly different than our own.
That in itself, should be a good thing. It’s the way we gain a greater understanding of each other. However, Khetarpal believes that what detracts from this is that people have the freedom to express themselves on social media in ways they wouldn’t if they were in a face-to-face conversation. This absence of filters makes the ensuing conversations much more confrontational.
“The most challenging part of this is how do we respect each other’s views and political ways of seeing the world without allowing it to truthfully end our relationship,” said Khetarpal.
In Khetarpal’s eyes, the political divide is truly becoming an issue that impacts families. She’s seeing political discussions turning to fights and, “they are charged enough that the word ‘divorce’ is starting to pop up.”
You Have To Talk Politics
If you’re sensing you and your spouse are on different planets when it comes to politics, it’s important to discuss it together even though that can be really tough. Things are not going to get better on their own.
“Hope is not an effective strategy,” said Khetarpal. “We can’t keep hoping things will change.”
People sometimes choose to not to have those difficult discussions because they know they’re not going to agree or because they anticipate that the discussion will devolve into an argument. What underlines this is a desire to avoid conflict or disagreement but it’s a fallacy to think that by not talking about it, you’ll avoid the conflict or it will go away.
Not talking about an issue doesn’t create understanding and it doesn’t resolve the issue. This applies to all matters, not just political questions. By not talking about it with your spouse, your relationship can deteriorate because that issue may fester and ultimately become a barrier to intimacy.
Khetarpal suggests that one alternative to talking to your spouse about a political issue would be to confide in another. This could be helpful if that other person could prepare you to have a meaningful discussion with your spouse but if it means you’re sounding off to that person and not your spouse there’s a risk that the practice will ripple to other issues you don’t want to talk about.
There’s a big difference between you deciding on your own not to raise a topic for discussion and you and your spouse making a joint decision, that you don’t see eye-to-eye on the topic and that you can accept and respect each other’s viewpoint. The former is a one-sided covert decision whereas the latter is an informed, joint decision.
It’s Not About Being Right
It’s important to approach these discussions from the standpoint of seeking a better understanding of the other’s viewpoint. This is not about persuading your spouse to change their position or proving that your position is right.
“A discussion is a wonderful way to start opening more doors rather than closing them,” said Khetarpal.
If you both approach the conversation by putting on the boxing gloves and wanting to duke it out, Khetarpal says you’ll both end up bloodied and that won’t solve anything.
These conversations are not easy. They take effort. “It creates a lot of anxiety when people feel vulnerable and having these conversations could make you feel vulnerable,” said Khetarpal.
Establish Some Ground Rules
Khetarpal recommends establishing some ground rules for conversations you know or anticipate will be difficult. You can create your suggestions and then get your partner to buy into them before you start the conversation.
Here are some guidelines you may wish to consider:
- no cell phones – they’re too much of a distraction.
- no kids.
- no walking away in anger or frustration. Eating a meal together makes it harder to jsut get up and leave.
- choose a time when neither of you is exhausted or pressed for time.
- choose a time when neither of you is dealing with another emotionally demanding situation.
- no name-calling – labels such as “bleeding liberal” or “Trump supporter” carry with them a slew of implied beliefs, values and judgments that may or may not be applicable to the person.
During your discussion, practice reflective listening. So when you’re partner has finished explaining why they hold a certain position, you would say, “I hear you saying that this is important to you because …”
Look to find the common ground between you. So for example, you might both agree that everyone should have access to quality healthcare but not agree on how that should be provided.
Finding common ground however, is not about compromising your core values or beliefs.
At some point, you may need to agree to disagree. If you don’t see eye-to-eye on an issue, then there’s little value in continuing to discuss it. You can’t keep going back to it. You’ll need to compartmentalize the issue and put it aside.
Don’t Make It Personal
So what do you do if your spouse likes to watch the political talk shows on CNN or MSNBC and you prefer the shows on FOX or would much rather be watching home decorating or cooking shows? Well, you can choose not to watch those shows with your partner and when you do, be sure to tell your partner that you are choosing not to watch the show because you don’t care for the show and it’s not about not caring for them.
The same logic applies to other politically themed activities such as attending a meeting of the local Democrats or a Town Hall meeting for your state representative.
Khetarpal warns that when you make not doing an activity together personal, then you can spiral into a dark place.
What’s Really Going On?
That dark place maybe what’s really going on. The political divide may be masking some deeper issues. Personally, I think this comes down to a question of whether your political differences are about differences in values or differences in policies. Relationship experts say that relationships where partners share core values have a greater likelihood of lasting.
Finding out what’s really going on means having some scary conversations. Khetarpal calls them “real and raw conversations.” The political issues may be a lightning rod for other deeper issues that have been present in your relationship for many years but they may have been hidden from view either by choice or default.
“It takes relationships to a difference level when you can really sit down and say, ‘I’m not happy with this,” said Khetarpal. Those real and raw conversations open the path to healthy relationships instead of one partner moaning that the relationship is not what they want.
In assessing the significance of what’s really going on, Khetarpal recommends identifying the three top things that are non-negotiable in your relationship. These are the things about which you are not willing to compromise.
“It opens up some ways for you to start seeing your relationship as whether this is something you want in your life,” said Khetarpal.
It’s Your Marriage
Even significant political differences, don’t have to mean the end of your marriage because marriages come all sorts of arrangements. It comes down to what will work for you and your spouse and definitely not about what anyone else says your marriage should be.
“You can choose the relationship you want with the other person and together you can make a decision about how you want to live your lives together,” said Khetarpal. “Everyone has the power to choose the relationship they want.”
Politics Don’t End Marriages
I’ve read headlines and social media posts about people ending their marriages over politics but that really is the surface reason. The current political differences are indicators of bigger differences that can’t be resolved. Possibly there’s infidelity, drug and alcohol abuse or untreated mental illness or the realization that your core values are contradictory.
It’s worth remembering that when assessing whether to end your marriage because when you do decide to leave, you want that to be a decision you won’t regret later.
“You don’t want to say it’s the President’s fault my marriage is ending,” said Khetarpal.
My guest for this Conversation was life coach Christine Khetarpal. Christine specializes in helping men and women find the clarity and confidence to decide whether to end their marriage.