One thing that we can no longer tolerate in a relationship is an opposing political viewpoint. We can live with someone who has a different religion, or a different cultural background. We can deal with someone who roots for the opposite sports team, or someone who likes a different type of ice cream. But for a Democrat to live with a Republican these days?
Being a Republican doesn’t mean what it used to. It no longer means you stand for conservative fiscal values; instead, it exemplifies regressive and oppressive views on women’s rights, gay marriage, and insidious racism that borders on anarchy. Being a Democrat today no longer means you stand for social justice and freedom but it implies that your values are so left that standing up for one’s rights and the rights of others can be offensive to others because it surely denies someone out there the right to speak their own truth. Both sides live in fear of one party capturing the vote and holding the democracy hostage, and god forbid capturing it all on video (or not getting it on video). Meanwhile, all of our basic beliefs and values hang in the balance, in the gap between our values.
And yet couples whose beliefs fall on opposite political sides of the aisle do exist. They don’t speak about who they voted for or who they will vote for. They don’t talk about their views on women’s rights or abortion. They try not to fight in public and they avoid any conversation that has the risk of imploding around the dinner table. They watch separate news programs and have the radio set for different stations in their cars. How do they do it? How do they make a sexual and romantic relationship work?
I have friends who live like this. They don’t talk much. They say they like each other, for the most part. But they almost didn’t survive the recent presidential election. There are signs that they might not make it till January. When asked how they feel about their differences, they murmur something vague about how they love each other, and the sex is good, and then they change the subject. And there is the key, a hint at the way they manage their lives. They have gotten really skilled at conflict avoidance.
They seem to be able to negate the things they hate about one another and focus only on what they like. They appreciate the positive traits in their relationship enough to balance out the negative. In their minds, the good outweighs the bad. They can relate to one another enough to have enough to talk about and they believe they can, as a result, tolerate the other’s viewpoints. I can only imagine what they watch on Netflix.
Is there really enough positive to outweigh their feelings of distaste, when who they vote for stands for so much more than the fiscal state of the nation? Our politics is not just about who we like but more often today who we hate. The ‘other’ side represents a perspective that is so reprehensible it borders on evil. When this kind of deep emotion is triggered, either by watching the news or hearing about the latest daily plot twist that is ripe in our culture today, our nerves can be frayed past the breaking point. Is the election fair or rigged? Are we a fair, democratic nation where our needs are represented, or are we living in a corrupt society where no news can be trusted and therefore everything anyone says is suspect? Whose broadcast journalist is telling us the truth? How fast do you change the channel? Who controls the remote?
Couples have broken up for less.
In the long term, in order to stay together, we ultimately need to share the same basic values. If we can agree on our views of the world, that we can trust what we see and what we hear, that the people around us are sane and we can predict our future, we can share our lives with others, we can find friends and lovers who may be able to connect over our shared world views. The ability to agree on the world, to see a common future, to have that shared vision, is important in dating and crucial in a longer-term relationship.
If you are concerned about your partner's political views, regardless of who you voted for, try connecting with your partner in an empathetic conversation. Talk about how you are feeling, share your anxiety over the state of the world. Try to find some commonalities in your emotions. Even if you don’t agree on your candidates.
Tammy Nelson PhD is a Certified Sex Therapist and a Licensed Relationship Therapist. She is a TEDx speaker and host of the podcast The Trouble with Sex. She is the author of five books including The New Monogamy.