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How to Sleep with "Political Enemies"

At a time when political polarization and antipathy in the United States remains at modern historic highs, many single people looking for a relationship wouldn’t want to date someone who voted for the candidate of the opposing party in the 2016 presidential election, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. Democrats are especially wary of dating a Trump voter.

Among Democrats and those who lean toward the Democratic Party who are single but looking for a relationship, about seven-in-ten (71%) say they probably or definitely would not consider being in a committed relationship with someone who voted for Donald Trump. In fact, 45% say they definitely would not consider seriously dating a Trump voter. Meanwhile, roughly half of single-and-looking Republicans and Republican leaners (47%) say they probably or definitely wouldn’t be in a relationship with someone who voted for Hillary Clinton, including 19% who say they definitely would not consider it.

No one ever actually intends to fall in love with someone whose politics they hate. But throughout history, there have always been people from opposite political sides who can’t resist the urge to pair up.

Katherine M. Hertlein, Ph.D., a professor with the Couple and Family Therapy program within the University of Nevada, Las Vegas's School of Medicine said she’s seen “quite a bit of discord” among couples concerning politics, “even among those on the same side.” What then, can people who are partnered with — perhaps even married to — people with opposing views do to make it work?

“What helps bridge the gap between two people who endorse different candidates is to go back to an ‘assumption of good intent,’” said Hertlein.

“Your partner probably didn’t hitch their star to this candidate you don’t like because they believe terrible things about you and the world, or because they just don’t care. Probably, they care very much and they support their candidate because that person resonated with their values.”

“Take the time to notice when you become emotionally reactive to certain topics, and clearly communicate what you need from your partner to feel safe,” said Danielle Moye, M.A., a licensed marriage family therapist in Windsor, Connecticut. “Once you’ve established a mutual understanding for these discussions, incorporate active listening into your conversations — listening with the intent to understand and not to respond so quickly.”Using the “I” statement “This punctuates the importance of a political view for one partner,” said Moye. “For example, ‘As a Black woman I feel that lawmakers should continue to pass bills to make it illegal to discriminate against hairstyles and textures.’ In an interracial relationship, the partner who benefits most from privilege may want to be curious about what this stance means to their partner. While the opposing political view may see it as ‘just hair,’ the one living the experience doesn’t feel visible, unless they adjust their hair to fit a Eurocentric standard of beauty.”

Recognize that you probably can’t change their mind “There is no value in trying to talk your partner out of their position,” said McNeil, “especially if you have not taken the time to acknowledge why this belief and value feels important to the person who holds it.”

psychologist Dr Jeanne Safer, a lifelong liberal Democrat, had to figure out how to deal with her relationship, when she realized the man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with was in fact a conservative Republican. Not just any conservative Republican, but someone who would go on to become Senior Editor of National Review, a leading conservative magazine.

Safer and her husband have now been married 39 years, and are still on opposite sides of the political fence. In her new book, I Love You, But I Hate Your Politics, she says she’s actually found it to be an enriching experience. And that her husband feels the same way. Safer even has a podcast on the subject—on I Love You, But I Hate Your Politics, she talks with couples about how they can ensure their relationships not only survive, but thrive, despite political differences.

Safer offers an extensive list of do’s and don’ts for politically mixed couples. Here are seven of my favorites, in order of increasing difficulty—from easiest to hardest.

1. Don’t lecture. No, not even if your partner has just said something totally ignorant or naïve,and you’re sure they’d change their mind if they just had a better understanding of American history. Trust me. It doesn’t work.

2. Don’t share information from the web, unless your partner asks you to. There are going to be times when you’ll really want to share articles, videos, podcasts, or blogs that you know your partner will dislike. Don’t do it.

3. Seek out serious, rational voices from the other side. Ask your partner to introduce you to their side’s most thoughtful opinion leaders. Listen carefully to what they have to say.

4. When your side scores a victory, try not to gloat. Remember how depressed you felt when the other side had its moments of glory? That’s how your partner is feeling now. Show them some consideration. Don’t rub it in.

5. Don’t watch political TV shows in the bedroom. These days, there are just too many partisan voices competing for Neilsen ratings. As Safer wisely points out, “What is good for ratings is catastrophic for relating.” If you can’t keep the TV off in the bedroom, at least change the channel to something less provocative.

6. Be careful not to insult your partner’s character and intellect. As we’ve all learned by now, it’s really easy to attach labels to the opposition—like “fascist,” or “socialist.” But labels are dangerous. Avoid them if you can. As Safer writes, “The moral high ground is dangerous territory in any marriage, and you claim it at your peril.”

7. Try not to feel too bad about the situation. Just because the two of you can’t agree politically, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with your relationship. As psychologist John Gottman has noted, every couple has its unsolvable problems. Yours just happen to be argued about on national TV.


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