Every political campaign brings more contention into previously civil political conversation—among friends, Facebook “friends,” family members, and even between husbands and wives. Many of us couldn’t wait for the last election to be over, so some of the division and rancor could stop. But instead of a return to civil public discourse since the election, it seems to have gotten worse. Of course there’s value to impassioned ideals and strongly held convictions. It’s when the expression of those opinions—and how we treat people who disagree with us—turns nasty that relationships can pay the price.
Katelyn and Trent used to be on the same political page, but now they’re very divided. Katelyn says she can’t skim past a cable news channel without her husband trying to force her into a discussion about a political issue. Trent is trying to “convert” her to his viewpoints, she won’t budge, and it’s driving him crazy. They never used to argue but now they seem to argue all the time. He gets mad that she doesn’t want to indulge him. To complicate matters, they’ve raised their teenagers to believe certain things that Trent now feels differently about, so Katelyn has asked him to leave them out of the conversation so they’re not taking turns telling them why the other parent is wrong. But he’s constantly challenging their views, too. Fortunately, they politely listen and go on with their lives, and they’re more concerned right now with their music and iPhones. Katelyn doesn’t agree with a lot of Trent’s views, but he’s a grown-up and she respects his choices. She wonders why he can’t respect hers.
Perhaps you’ve found yourself in that uncomfortable situation with your spouse. How can you—and Katelyn—keep the peace and let your mate know that you don’t want to fight about politics anymore?
We can’t escape politics, so we need to cope—calmly.
I don’t think a place exists where you can escape American politics, so don’t think about buying a plane ticket. And no matter how frustrated you get, don’t lose your cool. If your spouse acts like a political adversary sometimes and thinks you’re wrong about what you believe, blowing up might serve as the “proof” he’s looking for. Yes, it can be hard to have calm discussions about politics when it brings up such emotional, weighty issues. Political beliefs are tied up with other values that are far more important to us than any one political outcome. Which means you might want to carefully consider what is going on.
Trent might be testing new beliefs with Katelyn.
Katelyn’s husband is always trying to launch a conversation about politics, and he wants her to indulge him. Maybe he respects her views—and your husband respects yours—much more than you think. It’s possible that Trent knows he’s changed and is in a different place than Katelyn, and is feeling a little lost. Which could be creating a compulsion to talk things through with someone he does respect. His previous beliefs may not have been firmly rooted. And if so, he could easily be in the sort of crisis of belief that usually happens when kids realize they can hold different views from their parents. Just like a teenager makes strong statements as a way of testing out beliefs—and to process them with a parent—it’s possible that Trent is doing the same thing with Katelyn.
Your spouse might want to share his thoughts with his most trusted friend—you.
Trent and Katelyn are arguing because he wants to talk and she wants to shut down the discussion. Have you ever wanted to do the same, in order to avoid the conflict? Sometimes it seems easier to just not go there. But if you are your mate’s best friend, why wouldn’t he want to discuss his views with you? Perhaps he wants to see that you’ll listen and talk without judging or labeling him. In my research with the happiest couples, one thing they clearly do differently is believe the best of the other person’s intentions—even when there are real irritations. So try believing that he truly wants a conversation and is not simply trying to convince you of how right he is and wrong you are. (“He’s not trying to anger me, he just wants to talk.”)
Set boundaries to keep discussions peaceful.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting that you—or Katelyn—overlook it if the way your spouse is talking is inappropriate or aggressive. When that line gets crossed, we stop hearing opinions because attitude and approach are getting in the way. So he’s not likely to convince you of anything anyway. It’s a good idea to have boundaries that say, for example, “Honey, I just can’t handle it when your voice rises; it makes me feel anxious and insecure.” The key is helping our man understand under what conditions we will be willing to talk.
Keep the conversation going.
Because if we don’t talk, we might be pushing our spouse away when he really needs us. He might feel that if he can’t be honest and vulnerable about his political beliefs, he can’t be honest and vulnerable about other things that are even more important. And eventually, he will stop talking about it. But if some of the things he believes contradict your values, wouldn’t you prefer he works through his thoughts with you, rather than with random people at the office? Chances are, he’s discussing it elsewhere also, but don’t you want to be the main person he talks to? If Trent is going to be willing to reconsider his new beliefs and perhaps re-embrace his old ones, Katelyn needs to continue sharing why she believes what she does—and let Trent do the same. If we’re willing to listen and swap ideas—calmly and openly—political peace is possible. And relationship peace is certainly more likely if we’re communicating with our spouses than if we aren’t.
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Shaunti Feldhahn loves sharing eye-opening information that helps people thrive in life and relationships. She herself started out with a Harvard graduate degree and Wall Street credentials but no clue about life. After an unexpected shift into relationship research for average people like her, she now is a popular speaker and author of best-selling books about men, women and relationships. (Including For Women Only, For Men Only, and the groundbreaking The Good News About Marriage).
Her latest book, Find Rest: A Women’s Devotional for Lasting Peace in Busy Life, focuses on a journey to rest even with life’s constant demands.
Visit www.shaunti.com for more.