Dear Dr. Diana,
I read your recent column about political differences in a couple. I’m writing because our problem is similar but different enough that I wanted to write you and ask about it. When my husband and I first met, we believed strongly in all things important to us. It was one of our bonds. We continue to be passionate and committed in our political views. However, as the years have gone by, a divide has grown in our politics and we no longer see things the same way. The political divide has widened between us to the point where I am concerned that it is affecting our relationship. As much as we mutually don’t want it to, our friendship and respect for one another is taking a beating.
I don’t expect to change his views and I know for certain that he is not going to change mine. Is there any hope for us or does this mean that we are seriously growing apart.
— Gloomy on my marriage
When you write, “I know for certain that he is not going to change my view” it makes me think that you are hanging on to your political views and needing to be right, for dear life. Your husband may be doing the same thing. When people do that their minds close up.
There are many times in history where one political party adopted ideologies that were associated with the other political party. And then it’s not an ideology specific to one party anymore. Maybe this accounts in part for the growing number of people who are registering as independents. But the fact is that everyone should keep an open mind. It’s unrealistic for any of us to have all the answers.
Years ago, I saw a couple who were in a similar situation, so instead of letting their political differences ruin their marriage, it became an opportunity to learn how to more compassionately communicate with each other. They did it by role-playing. The Democrat would role-play the Republican position and would argue for it as if they were in a high school debate. The ultimate goal of the game was to win the debate arguing the other person’s position. By turning it into a game, taking the other person’s side and arguing it, they developed a deeper understanding of one another’s points of view.
Each person took time to research the other person’s perspective so they could argue it better. This helped them to calm down and have more empathy for each other. They realized that in their own way, they were both interested in the common good. They just saw different paths for getting there. Going forward, whenever they ran into a serious political difference that started to pull them apart, they agreed to go back to the debate game.
We established the following rules to help the game be effective:
1) No name calling;
2) No disparaging of the other person;
3) No hidden agenda – each person must stay true to the objective of the game.
In other words, each player must sincerely argue the political ideology of their partner through out the game, even if they personally do not agree with it.
It’s natural for couples to disagree, but it needn’t ruin a marriage. It’s only natural to want our current beliefs to be widely accepted, but when the coveted goal is to be right all the time, our relationships suffer.
The major take away is that couples shouldn’t expect to have the same views on everything. What makes a strong lasting marriage isn’t whether the other person votes the same way as you do, or even likes the same food. Success in marriage is based on compassionate communication, open-mindedness, acceptance and love. Everything in life changes over time, and we all need to remain open minded, especially when it comes to those we love.
Diana Weiss-Wisdom, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist (Psy#12476) in private practice in Rancho Santa Fe. She specializes in marriage counseling, blended and stepfamilies, marriage seminars and retreats. The next weekend retreat is Feb. 1-3, 2013 at The Cottage Clinic in Rancho Santa Fe.
Her new book, “Wisdom on Stepparenting: How to Succeed Where Others Fail,” will be released in October 2012. You can reach her at (858) 259-0146 or www.cottageclinic.net