We’ve been anticipating Election Day for what feels like the longest months of our lives. But just because it has now passed doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods. Especially for couples who don’t agree on politics, the days following the election can be tenuous.
My husband and I often debate politics. We both tend to have strong opinions and enjoy a good debate, but sometimes it can get more personal or heated. And occasionally when we disagree, it can get emotional (usually on my end, if I’m honest!). I’ve found over the years that the threat for our own relationship happiness is not in disagreeing or debating but in how we disagree and debate.
For those of you who know that your political differences won’t end on Election Day, here are my tips for making it work even after the ballot has been cast.
01. Get to know each other’s debating style really well.
Are there things you find upsetting about the way your partner presents his opinions? Does he make you feel belittled or like he isn't listening to you? He probably doesn't realize it (maybe he's just getting excited and carried away), so letting him know how you feel in an non-aggressive way is helpful.
It's taken us a while, but by talking about how we debate outside of our actual discussions has helped us avoid arguments where feelings get hurt.
Come at the conversation with a spirit of generosity toward your partner. You are bound to be impassioned by the issues closest to you, so don't assume that any heated words or tones of voice are intentional or meant to hurt you. Outside of a conflict conversation, have a proactive talk about how you like to handle disagreements. You and he should make your trigger points known so that the other can respect those in the heat of the moment.
02. Know how to kindly end the debate if necessary.
Speaking of trigger points, you must know what to do if one is well—triggered. I know I can get very emotional about certain issues because of some personal connection I feel (for example when policy has directly impacted me or a family member or friend). There are other issues in which I can remain more or less emotionally neutral, even during an impassioned debate.
No matter how well your partner knows you, he may not realize he has hit a trigger, so it's important to speak up before things go downhill fast. Dr. John Gottman, therapist and author of Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, explains that if one or both partners have elevated heart rates, it’s better to call a time-out than force a conversation. Come up with a safe signal that you both know means it's time for a time-out, no questions asked. Verily author and marriage counselor, Peter McFadden, suggests scheduling a time to readdress the issue and to have the opportunity to explain your feelings more calmly.
In the midst of debate, if you're reaching that point of "having enough" of a conversation, saying something like "Actually, it's really interesting to hear what you think but I'm getting a bit emotional and I don't want to talk about this anymore right now" can be helpful too.
03. Find common ground.
If you get upset about the fact that you don't agree, remind yourself of what you do agree on, whether on specific issues or more general, moral principles. Don't hesitate to make a list of things you agree on and go over them together—you would be surprised how sympathetic you'll feel toward one another!
Finding your common ground and keeping that in the back of your mind can help you remember that you are on the same side, even if you support different political parties. Rather than revel in winners and losers post-election, talk about what your shared dreams are for policy and social issues in the next four years.
04. Don’t gloat.
Post-election, you and your partner need to be congratulatory, but not gloating. It's OK to be happy if your candidate was elected, but practice restraint. Don't let it get to the point of upsetting the person whose candidate was defeated.
Especially now that the results are in, it's important to avoid one-upmanship with your partner. One of your candidates won, and the other's lost. That makes for one big elephant (or donkey?) in the room. Resist the urge to showboat if it's your candidate who won, and in turn, ask that he do the same. If you feel the need to celebrate, cheers to democracy rather than a specific party.
Yes, it would be so much easier if you agreed about everything, but it would also be a lot more boring, and you wouldn't have the chance to practice listening, empathizing, and expressing your opinions kindly. See this as an opportunity to grow—and to help your partner grow.
Photo Credit: Cynthia Chung