When I started practicing couples therapy two decades ago, clients hardly ever mentioned arguing over politics. That’s all changed in the past few years. Now more and more clients come to me because they’re considering breaking up over political differences.
It is possible to have a healthy relationship despite political differences if partners are committed to accepting the other’s views respectfully even if they disagree. Confident differentiating and open communication over tough issues can pave the way for a deeper bond. This can prevent couples from breaking up over political issues.
No relationship is all smooth sailing. Banging heads over politics can cause a total breakdown in the relationship as tempers flare over emotionally-charged issues. But breaking up over politics doesn’t have to be the only way out of the problem.
How to Prevent Breaking Up Over Political Differences
If you sit in one political camp and your partner in another, remind yourself that your partner’s political persuasion is just one aspect of who they are.
List the things that you love about your partner. For example, you might write that your partner is:
- A hard worker
- Puts family first
Next, assume the best about your partner
Remember, your partner isn’t trying to bug you; they just have different political views based on their life experience. Keeping this in mind may make your partner’s political stance on immigration or healthcare reform seem a little less maddening if it differs from yours.
Respect and Tolerance Are Key
There are many successful and thriving marriages between people of completely different religions where neither one converts to the other’s faith. Yet, they can show respect and allow their partner to practice their chosen faith.
Politics is similar. If you are in one camp and your partner is in another, respect and tolerance are key.
Two different people, anchored by mutual love, respect, and acceptance, can live exuberantly without any fear of rejection, even if they have different political views. Creating an environment of safety and freedom can create feelings of closeness and intimacy within the relationship.
Is Politics Ruining Your Relationship? Differentiate
It’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever ‘convert’ your partner to your political standpoint because political sentiments are often deeply ingrained.
Instead of aiming to change your partner’s mind, aim to differentiate from your partner in a healthy way.
What Is Differentiation?
Differentiation is that warm and healthy space between partners where they can own their thoughts, beliefs, and feelings safely, without danger of backlash or rejection.
So instead of lashing out at your partner when they express a political viewpoint that differs from your own, try to react with curiosity and interest in an attempt to understand the other person’s stance.
Healthy differentiation between partners often indicates that both individuals feel safe within the boundaries of the relationship to grow and change safely.
Keep in mind, it is far healthier to walk your own path holding hands in the middle than to desperately try to agree with each other over every issue in order to earn your partner’s approval or affection.
That wobbly relationship wheel of ‘trying to belong’ is stressful and not sustainable in the long term.
Stay Tuned In
The flip side of this ‘keep the peace at all costs’ stance are partners who simply tune out. They don’t want to be hurt or feel drowned in a relationship.
They, therefore, hover about on the outer edges of the relationship, never fully investing in it, because they are fearful of confronting differences with their partner. For both partners, this means lost connection and the loss of a true opportunity for depth in the relationship.
For many more practical strategies to help you differentiate in a healthy way from your partner, read my post 8 Ways to Set Healthy Emotional Boundaries in a Relationship.
6 Strategies to Avoid Breaking Up Over Political Differences
When working with couples who are considering breaking up over politics, I help them learn to use these strategies. Oftentimes, these techniques are enough to help the couple reduce tensions, learn new things about themselves and their partners, and increase their feelings of love and connection for one another.
Remember, there should never be any expectation of ‘winning’ the debate over any particular issue in a healthy partnership. There are no winners or losers in political discussions. You shouldn’t need your partner to come to your point of view to feel validated or like part of a team.
1. Establish Ground Rules
By mutual agreement, establish some ground rules around political discussions so that when you talk about them, you can focus, show interest, and try to understand where your partner is coming from.
Many couples set rules of engagement around difficult topics. This may look like setting time limits or checking in with each other frequently to make sure no one is emotionally flooded as you discuss something controversial like politics. Try to slow down the discussions, pause, and breathe.
In the same way, if you and your partner agree on everything besides the latest national foreign policy, you may, by mutual agreement, decide not to let politics slip into your conversation after a long day after work or while you’re out on a date.
This will give you both a safe time where you can focus entirely on each other and your shared interests without waiting for the inevitable political mood-killer to make its way into the conversation.
However, setting up politic-free time is entirely different from the silent treatment or not addressing important issues that affect the relationship. If differences are not openly acknowledged and discussed, they soon fester and become resentments that will steal affection from your partnership.
2. Agree to Discuss Policies, Not Politicians
There have been some pretty bold personalities in office in recent years. Discussing how specific speeches were delivered or perceptions of particular leaders does not necessarily mean you are discussing politics, just personalities. But that can get heated, too.
Suppose you leave individuals out of your political discussion and only focus on the issues that affect you directly, like personal taxes or healthcare policy? You may find you and your partner agree on more things than you think.
A good strategy for couples struggling to get over political differences is to agree only to discuss specific policies and not individual politicians. For example, you might say, “I’m happy to discuss the COVID vaccine with you, but let’s not talk about Joe Biden or Donald Trump.”
And speaking of COVID, the pandemic has been trying for many relationships. Demand for couples therapy has skyrocketed during the pandemic. Whether or not you have political differences, I strongly suggest that you read my post about How to Come Out of COVID With Your Relationship Intact.
3. Use the A-B-C Approach
When my clients are having difficulties communicating over political differences, I recommend the A-B-C approach.
First, take a deep breath. Your partner is not attacking you. They are expressing frustrations about a political issue that is different from yours, and that is okay.
A – ALWAYS
B – BE
C – CURIOUS
Show Interest by Asking Questions
Seek to understand how your partner came to their point of view in a calm and interested manner. This will provide you with deeper insight into how they think.
Just remember, your partner’s life filters are not the same as yours because you are two different people with two different personalities and sets of experiences, who chose to come together.
Being genuinely curious does not mean that you are accepting or adopting your partner’s stance.
Asking questions and showing an interest will help cement your relationship goal of having open and honest discussions even when you disagree. If you are consistently curious, you will reap the benefits in other difficult discussions when they arise in the future.
Let’s say you and your partner differ on a topic as politically heated as gun rights. While you don’t even like guns at all, your partner insists that the right to bear arms is essential to keep the government in check.
Here are a few questions you could ask:
- When do you remember first becoming passionate about the right to bear arms?
- Why is this so important to you?
- What is your fear if this right were to be taken away or curtailed?
4. Remain Mindful and Focused
Try to stay open during the conversation and actively listen. At first, this may be difficult as your mind might quickly move to rebutting your partner’s points. But with mindfulness training, you’ll be able to focus better on your partner’s answers.
Though you may be tempted to argue your side immediately after listening, resist. Instead, paraphrase what you heard. Let your partner know you are listening and make sure you heard them right. Ask your partner if they would be willing to ask you questions about your beliefs.
You can even set a timer for 10 minutes. One of you asks questions and the other listens. After the timer goes off, switch roles.
The act of actively listening will bring you closer together, even though you’ll probably still disagree on the issue. You might even learn something new about your own beliefs.
5. Take a Break
If you get hot under the collar during a political discussion, it’s time to have a time out.
Unless you pause the conversation before tempers flare, resentment may start festering, as snide jabs and a condescending tone might arise and eat away at your intimacy. Soon you may find yourself considering breaking up over your political differences
If you find things getting too heated, allow yourself time to step back while agreeing to continue the discussion later with a cool head. Say something like,”’I am feeling too upset to continue this discussion right now, but I’d like us to talk about this again later on so that I can understand your point of view.”
In this way, your partner won’t feel abandoned because they have expressed views that run contrary to your own. You are showing that you value the relationship by being willing to revisit the issue, but at the same time, you are also giving yourself some time out.
It is very helpful to commit to a specific time to resume the conversation. Try saying something like, “Can we talk about this again after dinner?” When you return to the topic, do so intentionally and mindfully, at a time you set aside specifically for this conversation, in a place and time that is relaxing for both of you.
6. Keep the Conversation Respectful
When talking about politics, try your best to keep the discussion respectful. In recent years some really derogatory labels have become the order of the day to describe left and right-wing followers – you know what I mean.
So really try to keep the focus on nurturing your partner and give your partner the freedom to express themself while at the same time also maintaining your own distinct identity.
Should You Break Up Over Politics?
Before you decide to throw in the towel and give up on a relationship because of different political ideologies, try the strategies above. They work for many of my clients, and I’m hopeful that they can work for your relationship, too.
Many couples from opposite sides of the political fence enjoy healthy, dynamic relationships because they have the freedom to differ from their significant others without fear of being judged or abandoned.
As long as you practice open communication, you and your partner can avoid breaking up over politics; instead, you can enjoy a loving, thriving relationship.