My husband and I have a pretty good marriage. We hardly ever fight but when we do, it’s about politics. We have completely different viewpoints. I hate hearing about his political beliefs and he is annoyed with mine. Lately, we can’t watch the news together because it has resulted in so many heated arguments. Right now we just avoid these discussions completely, is there any other way?

Politics is a way of viewing power and the way that power is used in public life to influence decisions in society. While polarization is the rule of today in US politics, it wasn’t always like that. Democrats and Republicans and their families could socialize together and negotiate with each other better than they do now. In other words, they could disagree and still remain respectful.

Polarization itself invites people to take extreme positions that normally they wouldn’t embrace. People have an “I’m right, and you’re an idiot” belligerence about them when things get polarized. The same thing happens in marriage.

While some couples get polarized over where to live, how to educate their children, whether to care for aging parents at home or in a care facility and so much more, the two of you disagree about politics.

There are couples, like Mary Matalin and James Carville who have figured out how to make their political differences work even when their life’s work is pitted against one another. They try to “cancel out” the other’s political influence in their role as political strategists. Talk about something to fight about!

But it sounds like you two can’t do it. 

And do you have to?

Do your jobs require you to reach some sort of common understanding of your differing views? And is this a sudden shift in perspective for one of you, or did you go into the marriage disagreeing about politics, but hoping one would “come around”?

This is a perpetual issue between you both. If it is something you both came in with, it’s likely something you will die thinking differently about. 

But if you want to try finding some common ground, try this:

Ask yourselves: 

  • “What are the principles or values that underlie my political beliefs?”
  • “Where do these principles, values or beliefs come from?
    • What’s happened in my life to solidify the way I feel about this? 
    • What positive things have I clung to as important life messages? 
    • What negative things have I learned that have taught me what to avoid?”
  • Argue only about concrete facts, not differing political opinions.
    • While Mark Twain famously once said:  “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics,” look for facts and figures that both sides agree on as true, but don’t interpret the same way. These will give you hints about how you see the world differently and why.
    • Go beyond 2-minute news reports. Pick one or two issues you both feel strongly about. Research the opposition’s perspective as well as your own. Then set aside time to share what you think and why.
  • Keep your arguments respectful.
    • Evelyn Beatrice Hall, who wrote under the pseudonymS. G. Tallentyre, was an English writer best known for her biography of Voltaire and The Friends of Voltaire, completed in 1906. In The Friends of Voltaire, Hall wrote the phrase: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” [4] as an illustration of Voltaire’s beliefs. Can you disapprove of but still defend your spouse’s right to hold that belief?
  • It’s hard to defend what you “hate to hear.”  Talk about why you “hate to hear” what he has to say.
    • Do you think it reflects badly upon you? 
    • Talk when things are calm, and from your heart about your fears, and what they might mean about him as a person. 
    • How do his political beliefs create dire consequences, if enacted? 
    • What would they look like in your mind? 

In other words, talk about yourself, what you fear, and what his words mean to you. He might be shocked to hear the interpretation you’ve made out of his words. He may have also said things in the heat of the moment he didn’t actually mean. Few people are truly evil. If you believe your husband’s beliefs put him in that category, talk directly about those fears. You will be enlightened, regardless of the outcome.

Avoiding conflict, about politics or anything else, is workable only if neither of you hold grudges, and clearly this isn’t the case for you. You ask the question because these arguments bother you, but you don’t know how to handle it. Approach the issue head-on, particularly what he’s said that bothers you, what you’ve made of it, and how it impacts you. Avoid focusing on the issue itself. Stick with getting clear about what his position is, and then talking about the impact this position has on you, your feelings about it, and the disaster scenario you have in your head about what could happen if those beliefs were put into action.

While his beliefs may not have the power to change society, they clearly have had the power to upset you. That’s what you want to stick with and talk about outside of your typical arguments.

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