I would like to think that my marriage isn’t like everyone else’s; that I’m somehow unique. I don’t want to believe that most married couples fight about the same things —money, sex, and time. My husband and I pretty much fight about those things too. What I didn’t know was that one of the biggest areas of bitterness would come from politics. And even though the US election is still more than a year away, I’m starting to have PTSD.
My husband and I met in Cambodia on the beach ten years ago. He’s originally from Chile, and he traveled through Southeast Asia on his way to China. Now more than ten years later we have built a life together, complete with two toddlers and a growing sense that significant differences set us apart.
The night Trump got elected my husband came home from work with a huge smile on his face. He sat at the kitchen table, expecting to be congratulated. For months, I had a sinking feeling Trump would be elected. I understood America’s fixation with reality stars. My husband saw Trump as a renegade, not affiliated with any political party, and he liked that both the left and the right despised him. He viewed him as a pragmatic problem solver who would be great for the economy.
I wasn’t so sure. In fact, with each passing day his rhetoric of “build the wall” and “lock her up” gave me the opposite impression of Trump’s contribution to the world.
“I’m happy, why aren’t you?” My husband asked. We’d put the kids to bed.
My gut told me to bypass the question. I knew if I engaged, we’d end up upset and stonewalling each other. Still, I couldn’t help it; drawn into the matter.
“Well, if you like that we elected a possible racist and sexist rich guy,” I snapped. “But I think he might be good for the economy,” I added. I honestly had mixed feelings.
We fell down the rabbit hole into a long drawn out discussion. As a middle child, I’ve had to learn to be scrappy. I spent my childhood learning how to debate. My husband grew up under Pinochet and came out a fighter.
Over the coming months and years, we argued many times about taxes, the Mueller Report, Stormy Daniels, and the wall. We live in San Diego, and when the talk of the swarming immigrants hits the airways, I wonder where they may be hiding. When the news implies Trump is a racist, my Chilean husband, rolls his eyes.
But something has come from our disagreements and stonewalling. We’ve learned something along the way. In a time of the “outrage society” where both the extreme right and left have stolen any chance of an intelligent conversation, we realized that to stay together we needed to learn how to communicate.
Marriages are difficult, even when you are more alike than different; even when you vote the same way. You have kids to manage, work challenges, and family obligations.
When political differences cause friction in your marriage, try to keep the following in mind.
Try to Understand Their Position
Sometimes this can be harder than you think. We all bring in our childhood traumas and past experiences, making the opposite opinion hard to hear and understand. But when you try to understand the remark from the other person’s viewpoint, then you can empathize.
Don’t Take It Personally
When my husband complained about liberals, I took the insults personally. I grew up in a liberal family, and when he used the word liberals, it seemed like a cuss word. I had to remember that everyone deserves a chance to be heard, even if the remarks seemed unjustified.
Never Go to Bed Angry
Most marriage therapists recommend never leaving ending a conversation angry. Many nights we crawled into bed seething with anger. Sometimes not even the light of the day could cut through our outrage. Over time we learned that if we argued before bed, we had to make up before sliding into the sheets.
I realized that if my three year old needed to learn stillness, so did I. Sometimes in the heat of the moment, I try to repeat back what I’m hearing instead of reacting.
Remember to Forgive
I’m the kind of person who finds it hard to forgive. I tend to hold onto past wrongs for a long time. I’ve had to learn that no one is perfect and in relationships, we tend to behave the worst.
Don’t Discuss Politics At All
If nothing works than not discussing politics in some cases might be the answer. It’s okay to exercise caution to have a peaceful household.
As the 2020 election approaches, politics will again dominate our lives and marriages. We like to classify people into two categories—rich or poor, right or left, good or bad— but in the end people, especially our partners, deserve to be heard.