Every time political arguments erupted at holiday gatherings when I was younger, I'd give a signal to my cousins to meet me under the dinner table. It wasn't because we were scared of the tension between the family's liberals and conservatives that seemed to pop up every year in between dinner and dessert at our grandma's, but rather, it was boring, difficult for us to understand, and there were never any resolutions. More importantly, it was the perfect time to tap on our relatives' feet and then scurry away before they could catch us. Growing up, most of the men in my family were conservative and most of the women were liberal (although in my generation, that's no longer true), which meant couples didn't agree on politics, and would sometimes even argue with each other during these heated family arguments — mostly notably, my grandparents, who are notorious for being polar opposites when it comes to everything.
Even within my immediate family, my parents typically don't agree on politics. After voting in elections, they'd laugh about how they canceled each other out once again. Because of this, we rarely discussed politics in our household. It wasn't that it was too sensitive to talk about, but it was just one of those things that my parents knew they didn't agree on, so it was never brought up in depth. What was the point? I grew up thinking that couples don't agree on politics, and that's OK, as long as they respect their differences. While communication is integral in relationships, maybe when it comes to political differences, as long as you agree to disagree respectfully, it's better off left alone?
"[Political differences in a relationship can work] but only if you both respect each other's differences and are able to appreciate one another's perspectives," Nicole Richardson, LPC-S, LMFT, tells Bustle. "Dr. John Gottman has been studying couples for over 30 years and one of the things we have learned from his research is that a component of happy, successful couples is that they are able to accept one another's influence. Accepting influence is exactly what it sounds like, it means that if you want a happy relationship listen to your partner and their ideas as though their point of view is interesting and valid. It doesn't mean you have to agree with everything they say but you accept their opinions as valid."
But Should It Be A Deal-Breaker?
According to Match's 2015 Singles in America survey, a survey of more than 5,500 singles ages 18 to 70 in the U.S., most people would date someone from a different political party than themselves, and men are more likely to do so than women (81 percent versus 77 percent). The thing that was a deal-breaker? Thirty-five percent of singles say their date not having an opinion on key issues is a problem.
As for the younger generation? Wishbone app polled more than 10,000 teens and Millennials across the country earlier this year and found that 47 percent would not date someone with different political beliefs, and 53 percent would. Thirty-six percent said their parents and family would care if they married someone from a different political party.
I've never been in a long-term relationship with someone who has different political views than me, and until this year, politics has rarely come up on dates. But with the 2016 election, the topic is unavoidable and incredibly interesting to discuss — especially since I've found myself on dates with the opposing party recently. I'm liberal and grew up in a super liberal town, but because of the conservatives in my family, including my father who's my voice of reason and moral compass, I have a great deal of patience for other political views.
But like all differences between two people — religion, kids, lifestyle choices — what may be a deal-breaker to some is not to others. When I think about what's most important to me and what my true deal-breakers are, politics is not at the top. Sexism, racism, aggression, laziness? All deal-breakers to me. But if a partner respects my opinion, even if they don't agree with how I feel about the Second Amendment, it's probably not a non-negotiable. Of course, that doesn't mean it couldn't be a challenge in a relationship. There are certain issues that do mean a lot to me, like a woman's right to choose, where I'd imagine differences in opinion form a bigger hurdle.
"It depends on the flexibility of each person and whether they can respect the other person’s stance," Anita A. Chlipala, LMFT, tells Bustle. "Just because someone favors one political party doesn’t mean they believe everything the party believes. So try to find some common ground, whether it’s what issues you do agree on or what values you share. If you think they’re 'stupid' or 'ignorant' for their beliefs, you definitely won’t have a healthy relationship."
So what should you do if you find yourself interested in someone who has different political beliefs for the first time? Here are some tips on how to make it work.
1. Discuss It Early On.
Can we toss the old "don't talk about politics on a date" rule out the window? Eighty percent of singles say politics is fair game for a first date conversation, according to Match's study. "Don’t think, 'Oh, we’ll figure it out down the road.' If you have different views you want to spell out as early as possible how that would play out in your relationship," Chlipala says. "You want to rule out any deal-breakers as early as possible before love hijacks your brain."
But also discuss how it could affect you as a couple. "I recommend discussing how your political differences could impact your relationship — and be as concrete as possible," Chlipala says. "For example, if you’re a Republican and you oppose gay marriage, and your date is a Democrat whose friend is gay and wants to get married, would you attend the wedding? Would you be able to put aside your personal beliefs to support your date as he or she supports their friend, and do it respectively? Or what happens if you get pregnant? Do you believe in abortion? What if your date doesn’t? Or what if you have unprotected sex? How do you and your date feel about Plan B?"
2. Actually Listen.
You may want to roll your eyes before they even start talking, but Richardson recommends to "listen as much as you speak" when you're discussing politics with a partner or potential partner. "Give your partner's thoughts, ideas, beliefs the same credence you would want them to give yours," she says. Sounds fair.
3. Assess How You Feel.
"You don’t have to agree with your date, but it is important to understand your date’s perspective," Chlipala says. "If you can respectively disagree and understand why they believe what they do, it’s a promising sign that you can make it work."
4. See It As A Way To Get To Know Each Other Better.
Perhaps it's a matter of perspective. "Don't allow yourself to get angry, a healthy exchange of ideas is part of growth," Richardson says. "I think it was Thomas Jefferson that wrote that if a person is principled they may see more than one way to accomplish a goal — the most important thing is they don't lose sight of their principles. I think if a couple can explore what values and beliefs may spur them to support certain candidates or policies, it can actually be a really good way to get to know each other more deeply. It is important to approach the conversation from the perspective that though the other person may not agree with you, their ideas are just as valid as yours."
5. Don't Make Assumptions.
Democrat, liberal, conservative, Republican — these are all labels, and I think we forget that. Too often, we make assumptions based on these words without really getting to know the person first.
"Don't assume that because your partner has not had the same experiences as you that they may not have a valid perspective," Richardson says. Similarly, don't assume you're going to change their mind (as much as you may want to). "They are their own person and it is disrespectful to believe that you could or should change them."
As Chlipala says, "Relationships need mutual respect to thrive." Regardless of your political beliefs, you can't argue with that.
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