Relationships are hard. Even the best relationships have their challenges. As if navigating everyday conflicts aren’t enough, politics has become a growing source of tension in relationships. A recent American Enterprise Institute study found that large percentages of Trump supporters and opponents would not date someone who held a differing view of the president. The study highlights an important consideration for couples or people thinking about coupling up. Does it matter if we disagree about politics?
Let me cut to the chase and start with the answer. In 98 percent of circumstances, differing political opinions do not have to be an impediment to a relationship and can even enhance the relationship. (I wouldn’t say it’s a good idea 100 percent of the time. Sometimes a person’s political opinions—particularly when they’re anger-filled—are really just a proxy for their poor character. When you come across that, run the other direction.)
Differing political opinions do not have to be an impediment to a relationship and can even enhance the relationship.
I speak from experience. I can attest to the value of bipartisan relationships. From 2003-2006, I worked in the Republican George W. Bush administration, first as the head of Legislative Affairs for the Department of Justice and then as a Special Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs in the White House. One of my main responsibilities was securing the confirmation of President Bush’s judicial nominees, including two Supreme Court nominees.
While I was doing this work, my boyfriend (now husband) was the Chief of Staff to Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, who was leading the charge against those very nominees. So not only were my boyfriend and I on different sides of the aisle, our daily work had us locked in mortal combat directly against each other. We managed to maintain a happy, healthy relationship throughout.
Being in a bipartisan relationship actually had some unintended benefits. It both made me more civil as I did my job and it sharpened my thinking about what I believed. At the end of a grueling workday, I couldn’t come home and complain about what the “other side” did to make my life miserable because my boyfriend was the other side. Demonizing my work adversaries was not an option because those adversaries included someone I loved.
This forced me to actually consider his differing perspective and ask questions to learn more about his point of view. I knew he loved his country as much as I did and that he was a good person. We just happened to have different opinions on the precise best ways to help the country. This changed for the better the way I viewed people on the other side of the aisle. It made me more understanding and inquisitive.
We just happened to have different opinions on the precise best ways to help the country.
Sometimes, we would even land on middle ground. You don’t hear a lot about compromise on cable news and Twitter because it doesn’t drive ratings, but compromise is not a dirty word. It’s the essence of politics—finding a way to increase the number of people who agree with you through persuasion and the development of new ideas. If this dynamic were replicated on a larger scale with partners and friends, then our political discourse would improve tremendously.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, then here are some suggestions to keep the peace in an election year:
In Washington, DC, most after-hours conversation at bars and around dinner tables is centered on politics. This isn’t necessarily healthy. Make a point of discussing other topics—books, movies, friends, sports or travel. Politics aren’t supposed to be the point of life. It’s simply a means to an end of creating a world where art, pleasure, creation and discovery can thrive. Don’t let politics live rent-free in your head all day.
Be open to hearing differing points of view without feeling the need to have a response to every argument. Give yourself time to ponder alternative perspectives, and maintain a habit of getting information from a range of trusted sources.
Don’t just watch the news channel that supports your opinions. Make sure to watch a show on another channel or read a paper with a contrary perspective. If you’re a Fox News fan, watch Jake Tapper or Nicole Wallace too. If you’re a faithful New York Times reader, check out National Review on the regular.
Don’t just watch the news channel that supports your opinions.
Thoughtful social media consumption
You could make the case that life is better without Twitter or Facebook, but for those who just can’t quit, it’s still important to be thoughtful about what shows up in your feed. Focus on following people who add value to you by providing reliable information or insightful analysis. Unfollow those who are spiking your emotions with exaggerated generalizations, false equivalencies and excessive negativity. It may feel good in the moment when someone is dunking on a public figure you loathe, but a steady diet of that is only hurting you and your mental health.
These tips may not completely eliminate the political tension with your significant other, but following them will most definitely help you successfully navigate an election year without losing something that matters so much more than who sits in the Oval Office—love.
Check out Jamie Brown Hantman latest book, Heels in the Arena: Living Purple in a Red/Blue Town.