Every couple experiences differences in some aspect of their relationship: differences in daily routines, food preferences, personality traits, etc. Most couples find their way to work around or accept these issues, but what about when it comes to politics? Given the polarization our country has seen with this past election, it is likely that there are folks out there experiencing the same polarization of political views within their marriage. Here is a list of suggestions on how to effectively communicate with your partner when you disagree on politics. These strategies are also helpful when talking to friends and family who have different political views.
- If you are going to talk about politics, know the difference between “fact” and “opinion.” An opinion is “a view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge.” A fact is “something known to have happened or to exist.” For example, “Millard Fillmore was the 13th President of the United States” is a fact, while “Millard Fillmore was the best president in the history of the United States” is an opinion. People often state opinions as if they are facts and usually this is harmless (i.e., “It is a fact that my grandmother bakes the BEST apple pies in the world!”); however when we move into the complex and impactful world of politics, it is especially important that we see the difference. Stick to provable facts when you are talking to your partner about politics, or graciously offer your opinion by noting it is only an opinion and not fact. Keep in mind much of what we hear and accept as ‘fact’ from the news can be misinformation and/or laden with opinion. When in doubt, do not argue over if something is a fact or not, just accept you disagree on a point.
- If you or your partner do not share personal opinions, don’t ridicule them; respect each other’s perspectives, and do not be passive-aggressive.
- Use your listening skills. This does not mean staying quiet and waiting for your partner to stop talking so you can respond with your own facts or opinion. Actively listen to what they are stating and try reflecting back what she or he is saying to ensure you truly understand what they are talking about. After all, conversation can serve to increase a sense of connection, love and respect when the goal is to connect with and better know the other human being you are talking with, versus conversation being to make your own point, be ‘right’ or win the debate.
- Do not focus on trying to change your partner’s political views. Rather, focus on trying to understand where they are coming from. It could be helpful to think about the socioeconomic status of their family of origin, their culture, their other life values and life experiences they have had that contribute to why they believe in the political views they do. Couples do not have to agree on everything, but it is healthier for the relationship when you can understand where each person is coming from.
- Look for commonalities in your political views. Perhaps you both agree more funding needs to go to education but disagree on renewable energy. Focusing discussions on the issue you agree with and how you can support it together can be a connecting experience as a couple.
- If politics are extremely important to you, talk about them early in the relationship. Politics often reflect values, and having shared values are important for long term relationships. If politics are not a key part of your identity, then differing views may not matter at all. If they are, it is best to know early own if your views are a good match.
In summary, many a happy marriage has survived staunchly differing political views! This is possible when your goal in conversation is to learn more about the other person, hear them out, be interested in their thinking, and explain your own thinking so they can better connect to you. Crushing your partner in conversation to prove you are right will not fare so well. Conversing with regard for dignity and respect can still result in an invigorating political debate!