As part of our “Love Essentially” series, Jackie Pilossoph helps us navigate the complex world of relationships. Have a question that you would like her to answer? Contact her here, and it may be featured in an upcoming article!
With the presidential election less than three months away, and two political parties that seem more divided than ever, talking politics with someone who has a different view can get uncomfortable, even heated, and might put a strain on the relationship. Think about those social media posts that stir your raw emotions, or the snide comments others make in casual conversation that might leave you feeling angry, hurt and frustrated.
But what do you do when the person who has a different political view happens to be your spouse? Can a Biden supporter and a Trump supporter learn to respect each other’s opinions and still be happy together?
Stan Selinger, Ph.D. is a North Shore based clinical psychologist who said politics is a struggle for some couples, but the right communication techniques separate those who can get past it and those who can’t.
Selinger, who has been in practice for over 40 years, said that a lot of times, disagreements about politics are part of a much larger conflict.
“Couples who differ in political opinions might also have other issues that they can’t agree on, such as parenting or money or how they spend their time,” he said.
According to Selinger, even couples with the healthiest relationships have disagreements, but their different outlooks aren’t the problem. Not knowing how to understand each other and discuss an issue in a respectful and productive way is.
“What typically happens is that they take a defensive position,” said Selinger. “One person says, ‘This is my view’ and the other person responds that he or she is foolish or stupid instead of trying to understand. They make it a win lose situation. They attack each other and that usually leads to cutting off the discussion and they just don’t talk about it.”
Here are Selinger’s 7 tips for talking politics with your spouse:
- Establish ground rules for the discussion, such as no name calling, no storming off if you get angry, no yelling, or no profanity. You can also decide to have a time out if things begin to get too emotional.
- Show respect for each other. Try not to be disparaging or negative about the other person’s views.
- Remember that everyone has his or her own set of values and that they are complex. Try to understand the other’s point of view.
- Listen more, talk less. People are very quick to say, ‘I heard you but here is my point.’ Slow this process down. Paraphrase what your spouse said. For example, say, ‘What I heard you say is…’ This way the person really feels heard.
- Lose the win lose attitude. You aren’t trying to defeat the person in the argument. The win is understanding each other and leaving the discussion feeling heard and respected.
- Remember that you are not weak or vulnerable if you decide to change your mind on certain issues. In other words, being open-minded can be a good thing!
- Learn how to end the discussion. If we are still in disagreement, can we continue discussing this again after some time has passed? Or, agree to respect what you learned from the other person and what views haven’t changed. People can have different views and still have immense love for one another.
One thing I think might help couples of differing political views is that both agree to spend some time watching the other person’s news station. You might walk away with a slightly different perspective. That doesn’t mean you have to change your opinion, but it could help you understand your spouse’s position.
In closing, the current political climate might be the most tense I can ever remember. Sensitivity and emotions run high these days when it comes to opposite political views and differences of opinions about our country’s leaders.
But not talking politics, especially with your spouse, isn’t the answer. All silence does is build a wall of resentment, awkwardness, and disconnect. The key is to have conversations with the same respect and kindness you would use to communicate about anything.
If you think about it, voting is the only control a person has when it comes to who will end up in the White House, the senate and in congress. After you vote, it’s up to you to control what you can: living your best life and loving your spouse with thoughtfulness, kindness, trust and honesty. The beauty is, you can choose to do these things regardless of who wins the election.
Register to vote here.
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Jackie Pilossoph is a former television journalist and newspaper features reporter. The author of four novels and the writer of her weekly relationship column, Love Essentially, Pilossoph is also the creator of the divorce support website, Divorced Girl Smiling. Pilossoph holds a Masters degree in journalism and lives in Chicago with her two teenagers.