- Opposing political views can stir up conflict in your relationship and ultimately drive a wedge between you and your partner.
- Before you engage in a political discussion with your partner, press pause and consider the best way to approach the conversation or if it’s worth having at all.
- Also, try making a list of you and your partner’s trigger words, or words that elicit a strong emotional reaction, to avoid in political conversations.
- In addition, establish a safe word as well that you and your partner can use anytime to halt the conversation and de-escalate or redirect heated conversations.
- Finally, consider talking to a mental health professional if you and your partner are unable to come to terms with your opposing political views.
As you well know, talking about politics isn’t generally a fun pursuit. With election season upon us and many unknowns about what’s to come, it doesn’t seem like political talk will be ending anytime soon. But what do you do if you and your partner have opposing political views and it causes friction in your relationship? This can stir up some pretty heavy arguments, especially if you’re both very passionate about your thoughts and opinions.
The last thing you want to do here is push your partner away. To combat this, it’s best to adopt healthy strategies for minimizing conflict and finding appropriate resolutions for your political discussions.
Press Pause Before You Get Into It
It’s easy to see something on social media or in the news and immediately blurt out your thoughts. It typically sounds something like, “Oh, did you see…,” “HA! I can’t believe…,” or “And that’s why I don’t like…” While you most likely aren’t intentionally starting an argument, the way you approach political conversations with your partner can make a huge difference. Beginning a conversation with, “Ha!” is more likely to rile up your partner than if you approached it differently.
If you see or hear about something that you want to discuss with your partner, consider pausing before saying anything. Ask yourself…
- What is the best way for me to approach this topic?
- If I mention this topic, will my partner get upset?
- Is bringing up this topic so important to me that I’m willing to potentially start a debate with my partner?
- Would it be better to have this conversation with someone else?
Couples who press pause before engaging in potentially infuriating conversations can better consider the consequences of their words. It would certainly make life a lot easier if we all had remote controllers like in the movie Click. Unfortunately, we can’t actually hit pause or rewind if we need to. Instead, we can try counting to three before saying something that might be risky. It’ll give you time to think rather than blurt something out that you might regret.
Recognize Your Partner’s Trigger Words
Let’s say your partner has an intense fear of spiders—so much so that just the word “spider” causes them to go into a panicked fight or flight mode. Knowing this, would you yell, “Spider!” every time you saw one in the house, or would you get rid of it before your partner found it?
The same goes for talking about politics. Sometimes there are trigger words, like “spider,” that can immediately cause someone to get defensive. Maybe it’s a candidate’s name or a particular political issue like the economy. Recognizing trigger words, conversations, or patterns sets the intention of decreasing the number of arguments you have.
To better understand what your partner’s trigger words are, and for you to let your partner know about yours, sit down together when both of you are in a good mental space. Create a list of words to avoid saying to each other that might cause tension. If your partner’s trigger word is specific (like the economy), it might mean that the whole topic is off-limits for them. When you sit down to create this list, ask them if they would like you to refrain from speaking on that topic at all or if it would be better to replace the word with something less triggering. Perhaps it might be money or finances.
If there are a few trigger words that you share with each other, it might be challenging to remember them all. That’s okay. With time, patience, and practice, you’ll be able to easily refrain from mentioning them to your partner. However, make sure you actively try to keep up with this, or establishing trigger words will be counterproductive.
Create a Safe Word to De-Escalate and Redirect Arguments
Let’s say you’re at the dinner table with your partner when you think back to a conversation you had at work regarding politics. Maybe you were astonished at what was said and you didn’t press pause before bringing it up with your partner. The conversation starts out okay, but your partner becomes flustered and wants the conversation to end. This might result in a screaming match, slammed doors, or a cold shoulder. To prevent situations like this from happening, create a safe word that you both can use to redirect arguments when you’ve had enough and want to agree to disagree.
Try coming up with a safe word that you don’t say in casual conversation. It might be “kiwi,” “purple,” or “dictionary.” Find a word that you’ll both remember and stick to it. Establishing a safe word is only as effective as you let it be. If you’re mid-argument and your partner starts to feel overwhelmed and says, “Kiwi!” you have to stop where you are and end the conversation. This will help to halt the conflict and also cut through the tension—admit it, if your partner yells, “Kiwi!” you’re probably going to chuckle. Now, this can be hard for some people who might feel the need to always have the last word or finish their final thought. However, by continuing to finish your thought, you’re ignoring your partner’s request to stop the conversation. This can decrease their trust in you and even cause them to feel more overwhelmed and frustrated than to begin with.
Just as you want to ensure you remember your partner’s trigger words, you want to remember to use (and listen to) your established safe word. Practice using the safe word in less stressful conversations like cleaning up after dinner or what color you want to paint your bedroom wall.
Love Your Partner for Who They Are, Not Their Political Party
Emily Simonian, MA, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at Thriveworks Counseling in Washington, DC—specializing in anxiety, stress, and family issues—understands that it can be difficult when you and your partner have opposing views. “When you and your partner have different political views, it can feel isolating and incredibly frustrating, but it doesn’t have to. When partners spend time and effort trying to change each other’s opinions, they end up inadvertently creating competition, and competition naturally divides. However, if you resolve to foster a sense of acceptance of each other’s views, you’ll likely protect your relational bond in the process.”
There’s no easy fix to overcoming political stress and anxiety when talking to your partner. Although, by taking these steps, you can make it easier. Simonian says, “I know accepting opposing opinions, especially politically, is easier said than done but think of it this way—current research in the field of couples therapy points to the fact that most partners have the same set of perpetual issues in their relationship that are not likely to disappear over time. I call these ‘fixed problems.’ In other words, if you’re a Democrat and your partner is a Republican, those views are probably not going to change over time. So you have two choices—to accept your differences and find a way to work with them or to engage in argument after argument to no avail. Working with fixed problems involves patience, awareness, and respect.”
Suppose you’ve tried these tips and you and your partner are still struggling to dismantle the political arguments in your relationship. In that case, you could greatly benefit from working with a trusted mental health professional. They can offer you added guidance, support, and an unbiased, outside perspective.
Remember, you love your partner for who they are, not their political views. Take a step back, reflect on the positives, and remember to stay strong in the wake of mid-election and post-election season.