Now that Joe Biden and Donald Trump are headed full steam ahead towards the nominating conventions, the stage is set for what I’m sure will be a wild, no holds-barred, drop down and punch them out type of race for the presidency. The press will capitalize on every opportunity they get to make Donald Trump and Joe Biden look bad (depending on which media outlet you pay attention to). Stories will be sensationalized and conversations, when not about COVID-19, will be filled with all things politics. No doubt, some of these conversations will be volatile, contentious, and maybe even verge on breaking up a relationship.
In my personal life I’ve been met with outrage at the mere expression of how I feel about a candidate or my commentary on the political circus. This got me thinking about how couples should deal with opposing views in their relationship. How can two loving people have such dissimilar views and continue to coexist and not let the 2020 election tear them apart? The truth is, if the relationship is stable and loving and the couple problem solves well together, it will survive and withstand any tension or strain it may encounter. If though problems already exist, then that’s a different story. They’re vulnerable and could be subject to insurmountable troubles or even splitting up.
Here’s how to keep your political differences in check:
1. Forget about trying to win. It’s not about keeping score, winning the argument, or making the other person look bad. If you approach your partner with that mindset then it will surely be met with hostility and defensiveness. Any name calling or demonizing your partner and reliance on sensationalized clips or propaganda will only fuel the tension between you and them and compromise the otherwise healthy dynamic that exist. Rather than trying to find holes in their argument or seeing them as an antagonist, be respectful and sensitive.
2. Aim to share your ideas, not change your partner’s political affiliation. As is the case with a lot of discussions about hot-button issues, in relationships it should be one about sharing your opinion and deepening your understanding and connection, not trying to get your partner to buy into your beliefs.
3. Listen. Be a good listener and truly make an effort to understand how your partner came to feel a certain way about a candidate. Sometimes being heard is all that’s needed to prevent a discussion from turning acrimonious. Clarify what the other person says and how they feel by repeating back to them your summation or their comments and/or asking them questions that will ensure better understanding.
4. Keep your emotions in check. If you feel things starting to get heated, then agree with your partner to some ground rules. For example, agree to take a time out. Go for a walk, have a bite to eat, or do something else and then hit the reset button.
5. Ask yourself, “What’s really important?” All too often if a couple gets embroiled in political conversation they lose sight of what’s truly important. Things such as family, kids, and careers take a back seat to an elected official. Stay true to what really matters and never let a politician get between you and your spouse.
6. Focus on what binds you. Despite their vast differences in style and presentation, ultimately Joe Biden and Donald Trump want the same things: peace, a strong economy, good educational system, security, etc. Try to focus on these larger items and concepts and where you might actually want similar things for the country.
So if after employing these tips you’re still having problems then consider that perhaps the differences are simply too stark to have a healthy relationship. Next time you meet someone to potentially date, discuss the very things that you might otherwise avoid early on: political views, religion, and sex. As a psychotherapist who has treated countless couples, I say talk about the very things you’d ordinarily avoid, including which political party you feel an allegiance to, and why. This might help to avoid a train wreck later on.
Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days by Jonathan Alpert.
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