Friday, May 23, 2008

The Election

This article could have been written about myself and my beloved. Although, we have been married/together long enough that we acknowledge the fact that we cancel eachother out.

But, after the 2004 election, I was in a state of morning until the inauguration. T still talks about with a snicker. Err....Republicans!

The roles have reversed - since T isn't a 100% proud of what his candidate has done in the last eight years.


'I Don't Know Who I'm Married To'
Political differences shake bipartisan relationships
By Jeremy Egner

Lindsay Wright had been married to her husband, Brian, for only a few months last fall when she realized their relationship wasn't as harmonious as she had thought.

In fact, she recalled recently, things were cruising along nicely until a casual kitchen-table revelation rocked the Wrights' newlywed bliss.

"It was like an explosion went off within our house," says Lindsay, a Phoenix attorney.

What triggered the flare-up and the two days of bickering that followed? Some financial blunder? An admission of infidelity?

Actually, it was an online candidate quiz.

Brian, it seems, wasn't as conservative as Lindsay, a longtime registered Republican, had believed. He expressed sentiments while they were dating that led Lindsay to think they saw eye to eye politically, she says. But as Brian answered quiz questions about his political positions, Lindsay learned that they held nearly opposite views on hot-button issues such as Social Security and gun control, among others.

"Health care, oh God, that was huge," Lindsay says, audibly exasperated. "I called my friend the next day and said, 'I don't know who I'm married to.'"

Political differences don't generate as much heat as other marital friction points, such as disagreements over finances or parenting strategy, according to couples therapists and other experts.

Notable couples such as Mary Matalin and James Carville, married political consultants from opposite parties, prove that bipartisan relationships can and do work. Only 15 percent of respondents to a January survey by Engage.com, an online matchmaking site, said they would not date someone simply because they belonged to a different party.

But during the election season, political differences between partners become magnified as stump rhetoric intensifies, yard signs proliferate and wall-to-wall campaign coverage consumes even the most casual political observer.

As a result, cracks can emerge in the shaky d├ętente forged by couples who normally agree to disagree politically, say those living amid the crossfire.

"Our differences never gave me pause about our relationship," says Beth, a self- described "flaming liberal" Washington attorney who declined to give her last name because she works with government agencies. "But when he voted to re-elect George W. Bush, it set me off. I was literally angry and I yelled at him."

Had the couple lived in a so-called swing state instead of overwhelmingly Democratic D.C., "I might have divorced him at that moment," she says.

Beth, who was pregnant at the time, admitted that "hormones" might have fueled her vitriol. But her husband isn't taking any chances.

"Now he doesn't tell me who he's voting for," Beth says.

Different, not wrong
Is secrecy the key to forming a more perfect union between political opposites?

A more positive approach, say couples therapists, is for partners to learn how to disagree without making it personal.

That's easier said than done. Broad political affiliations comprise many specific and often quite personal stances on issues that affect nearly every facet of life.

Tina Tessina, a Long Beach, Calif.-based therapist and author of "Money, Sex, and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage," acknowledges that individuals' political beliefs about how the U.S. should care for the poor and the sick, defend its citizens and pay for its schools and roads are closely tied to how they define themselves as people. In other words, when someone says your positions on these issues are wrong, it's easy to interpret it as a personal attack and respond in kind.

"You get into a courtroom drama, trying to prove that your side is right by saying bad things about the other person's point of view," Tessina says. "The minute you get into who's right and who's wrong, you have a never-ending battle because a person is always right from his or her own perspective."

Communicating political differences
Linda Olson, a clinical psychologist and therapist based in New Canaan, Conn., teaches quarrelsome couples a three-step communication process based on "hearing, validating and empathizing," she says.

The first sounds self-explanatory but instructs people to actually listen to what their partners are saying rather than simply plot their counterattacks. Validation comes when someone acknowledges that a partner or spouse is making a reasonable point, even if it's not one that he or she agrees with, Olson says.

"It's not about agreeing with a person," she says. "It's being able to see and hear another person's point of view."

Empathy, the "hardest piece," comes when a spouse summons enough compassion to understand, based on what's been said, how a partner can feel the way they do, Olson says.

Such systematic approaches don't come naturally. But once mastered, they can be applied to all sorts of conflicts, political and otherwise.

"It's not unlike learning to play golf or a sport," Olson says. "It's all about building skills."

To each his own
It doesn't help that political media coverage reinforces the "right vs. wrong" dynamic by obsessing over the horse-race aspect of elections, Tessina notes.

"They treat it like a sporting event instead of as intelligent discourse," she says. "But when you're talking with your partner, intelligent discourse is really, really important."

Since the blowup last fall, the Wrights have learned to tread more carefully around touchy issues, Lindsay says. They do agree on some controversial subjects such as abortion and gay marriage. Lindsay would register as an Independent if it still allowed her to vote in primaries, she says, and tend to discuss such topics more often than contentious ones.

Where they differ, they try to remain civil instead of "getting passionate about it," she says. As long as Brian's position seems well considered, she can respect it, she says.

Love, kids & politics
Together for nearly 25 years, Judy and Joe Musa of Middletown, N.J., have had plenty of time to practice setting partisanship aside in the name of a happy home.

Joe, a pastry chef, is a registered Republican who campaigned for Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. Judy, a public relations and marketing professional, is a liberal Independent, she says.

"This is the woman I love; what can I tell you?" Joe says. "We just have to go on realizing that we cancel each other out."

The current election has been somewhat calmer than past contests, Joe says, because neither partner is thrilled by the choices.

"I have issues with my guy, and she has issues with the two on her side," he says. "I'm just going to hold my nose and pull the lever."

The Musas toned down their occasionally heated political spats after they had children, Judy says. Their kids, ages 6 and 4, are too young to distinguish between political debates and actual fights, she says.

But what happens when they get a little older? Will the Musas vie to sway their kids' political affiliation?

"Actually, I like that my kids will realize that there are many points of view in America," Judy says. "Nobody's perfect, nobody's right. Everybody's allowed to have their own opinion."

"I have to say, I'm the one who writes the check out for Joe's subscription to the National Review," Judy says. "I'm open-minded enough to say, 'If you want to read that thing, go read it.'"

"What can I say?" she adds. "I'm a loving wife."

1 comment:

Tina B. Tessina, PhD said...

Diane, thanks for posting this. If you or your readers have questions about how not to fight over politics, money, sex, kids or any other relationship issue, I can be found at the "Dr. Romance" Blog http://drromance.typepad.com/dr_romance_blog/