Why are political differences in a relationship so stressful?
The answer is simple—not unlike water, politics runs much deeper. It’s not just about politics; its about our beliefs and values as well as a reflection of our essence. When these philosophies become combative, our relational space can suffer and we can easily become estranged.
The expression “united we stand; divided we fall” is applicable to relationships when beliefs and values are challenged. We can feel the divisiveness on every level. We see it, we sense it and we fear it. The tone of our country is palpable and it cascades into our personal lives leaving similar reactions. Anger percolates, violence breaks out, chaos and crisis become our state of living. Just as the country has been so deeply divided, the rippling effect cascades down to couples and friendships.
Never before has there been such vitriolic exchange in our social connections, affecting how we feel about our partners, our family members and friends who can’t see it our way. Our very sense of being feels threatened especially when our partner challenges our deeper feelings, making it a rigWhy are political differences in a relationship so stressful?ht or wrong issue.
Relationships can be difficult even in the best of times.
They require time, effort and work. They are even more stressful in the worst of times. Between the pandemic and the collateral damage due to the election, its challenging to bear up when our lives and environment feel so threatening. Everything we see or hear is an opinion, not a fact. It’s only a fact when we have statistics and evidence of proof, otherwise it’s a perception or perspective—not the truth. Three people can see an automobile accident and you can be sure there will be three different responses to the same event. Our personal history and filters determine how we view our thoughts and feelings. The same applies to our philosophy, values and beliefs.
Philosophy and religion are personal matters. Everyone has the right to self-determination. However, when living together under the same roof, having oppositional political beliefs, can be risky business.
Teviah, the “poppa” in Fiddler on the Roof asks God, “If a bird falls in love with a fish, how are they going to make a home together?” Teviah was referring to religious differences. Today it has become political differences.
How to Manage Oppositional Feelings in a Relationship
It is not uncommon to see profiles on dating sites that read, “If you support Trump, please do not attempt to connect with me.” It runs the opposite way as well. Oppositional political beliefs can be the deal breaker perhaps even more than religion, race or cultural differences. We can have oppositional feelings co-existing simultaneously which means we can experience love and hate as if it were one feeling joined together. It takes courage to separate the person from their behavior and beliefs. No one said it was going to be easy, but to preserve and protect our relational space which is where our kids live, we must be committed to try our best.
Our world is changing rapidly. Between Covid-19 and the election, we have suffered greatly. Our routines have been altered, our lives have been disrupted with working, leisure and family time. Add too much togetherness and disruption in our social lives and we have a recipe to dis-connect when we need connection the most. It has become a huge challenge to maintain peace of mind and a sense of pleasure without having the things we took for granted. The combination of this and the political differences can and have created a chasm in our relationships. Our relational space can become easily polluted and it is up to each partner to feel obligated to get through the gauntlet without destroying what is so sacred.
But what do you do when you are living under the same roof with kids? How can you save your marriage when the very core of your soul has been challenged? Never before has there been this much contentiousness in our relationships over political preference. Our parents voted for the party, whether they liked the president elect or not. Occasionally, there may have been a time when the person mattered more than the party, but these choices never caused serious threats to our relationships; perhaps because there were never such extremes in our lifetime.
What are the answers and solutions to tone down the rhetoric and dissention that could ostensibly cause a break-up or divorce? Help is on the way!
8 ways to improve the quality of your relationship while living in unprecedented times
- Relax! Know this is not forever. Remember, this too shall pass. We are going through a rough patch—a gauntlet, the eye of the needle, perhaps longer than ever expected, but the election is now over and we will soon forget about the party differences and go on with our lives. Wins and losses are also part of the human experience. In the meantime, we don’t want to put our relationships on the line over political differences and the pandemic. We need each other now, more than ever! Eventually, we will come to acceptance and move forward, hopefully not at the expense of our relationships. Life goes on despite the hard knocks and uncertain times we are in now. Hopefully the vaccine will take care of the COVID-19 issue and that too is around the corner. Be conscious of what matters most—the election or your relationship?
- Take time to talk about your blessings with each other instead of your grievances. Learn to respect the differences in your partner rather than criticize and judge. Remember why you fell in love. Restore human kindness to each other and be willing to accept and negotiate the differences rather than find fault and criticism. Let your love lead you to forgiveness and gratitude instead of loathing and uncompromising. Practice mindfulness before you act out your feelings. Share them with understanding and tolerance. Be patient! There is a silver lining.
- Time is a healer! As soon as our lives turn back to hopefully, better than normal, our relationships will be restored, but not without effort on each partner’s part. “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” Heed the good advice given centuries ago!
- Practice loving behaviors. Sleep closer together. Spoon and embrace each night. Make your amends and give hugs and kisses. Make love! Lots of it. It’s nature’s best tranquilizer. Stretch your emotional muscles and follow NIKE’s advice. “Just do it!”
- Compromise! Communicate and Cooperate! Be create! Adversity breeds either strength or weakness. Choose the one you want. Allow yourself to go beyond your growth’s edge and fight for what means the most to you. Don’t give power to politics and COVID-19. Fight hard for the most important things that matter most to you—each other. How you handle yourselves will be role models for your children.
- Exercise compassion and restraint. It’s easy to act out. It’s harder to watch your words and behavior, but if you are seeking relational maturity, you must practice mindfulness and think of the consequences of your behavior. Be gentle with each other, especially in these difficult times. We need love when we deserve it least. We need love most when we are suffering. We need each other!
- Whatever you can enjoy together, find the time to do it. Enjoy activities like reading a book together, exchanging reading chapters with each other aloud. Find books that will support your relationships like THE FIVE LANGUAGES OF LOVE by Gary Chapman or GETTING THE LOVE YOU WANT by Harville Hendrix. My book, I HATE THE MAN I LOVE: A Conscious Relationship is Your Key to Success can be ordered now on Amazon or your favorite bookstore. These and more can give you tools and resources to support your relationship through these difficult times.
- Watch movies together, ones that will stimulate discussion and introspection. Find common interests like bike riding or taking walks together. Send love notes to each other. Surprise each other by doing something you know your partner will appreciate. Play board games together and with your children. Engage in conversation with your kids and allow them to express their feelings. Listen! Pray together with each other and your children. Be creative!
- The best way to stay out of trouble is to avoid talking about politics. Put that conversation in a container where the genie can’t pop out. Why talk about a hot topic only to find yourself frustrated, irritated and defensive? Find other things to talk about that will keep you safe! Remember, life is short and you don’t want to be around anyone who sucks the happiness out of you. Time is like toilet paper. The closer you get to the end of the roll, the faster it seems to go.
- Seek professional help if you can’t find ways to resolve conflict. You wouldn’t avoid testing if you had symptoms of Covid-19. Don’t wait until its too late to seek a therapist who can be a support to your unsuccessful efforts. Reach out! Zoom is the new frontier for therapy. It is easier than driving to an office. You can even stay in your pajamas and so can your therapist!
Adapt! Make good choices and protect and preserve your most precious asset—your relationship!
A relationship is like life. It isn’t process of preservation, but of change and growth. Unless you grow and change together, you will change and grow apart.
– Bill Crawford
Joan E Childs, LCSW is a renowned psychotherapist, inspirational speaker, and author. For more information on how to create and maintain a conscious relationship, order Joan’s new book, I Hate The Man I Love: A Conscious Relationship is Your Key to Success.