Eighty-one percent of Americans would prefer not to be in the relationship I am in, according to a poll, published by Newsweek. What would be their deal breaker?
My husband and I have different political views and often stand on opposite sides of a political debate. While we are happily married, political differences are often considered a red flag in today’s dating arena.
According to the poll, published in March, 21.5% of respondents wouldn’t even consider dating someone across the aisle. What are they missing out on?
When my husband and I were dating, one of my friends asked me, in amazement, if I really thought dating someone with different political views could work out. I had my own worries, but my stepdad said something that completely changed how I viewed the situation. He said that if our core values were the same, we would still be moving toward the same goals, just from different perspectives.
That led to many important conversations with my partner about our core values that brought us closer together and helped us see the wealth of common ground we had, despite differing opinions on national and local policies.
“Lately, people won’t (date) anybody who disagrees,” says Jeanne Safer, psychotherapist and author of “I Love You, But I Hate Your Politics” in an interview with the Knot. “They don’t realize there are plenty of people who agree with you who would make a lousy husband or wife.”
The benefits of dating someone with different beliefs
Safer and her husband, Richard Brookhiser, have celebrated 40 years of marriage with political differences. Brookhiser tells the Knot, “In a long marriage, you go through so much together and political agreement isn’t the biggest one. It’s how a person treats you, how they admire and help you, how they’re proud of you, how they don’t compete or fight with you in hostile ways, that’s what counts.”
Brookhiser emphasizes the importance of viewing someone as more than just their political party affiliation. To understand differences, we have to start at the root of those differences: our diverse experiences. None of us has the same experiences moving through life, and each of our unique experiences informs how we think, what we value and how we grow.
My husband and I grew up in different parts of America (rural vs. suburban), we are different genders, we were raised with different parenting styles, our family structures growing up looked very different. All of our different experiences inform our beliefs, including political ones.
When we expose ourselves to new perspectives, we “foster a societal culture of tolerance, respect, and understanding,” says Heather Singmaster, writing for Education Week. The rhetoric today often encourages us to have an “us vs. them” mentality, where anyone who disagrees with you is your enemy. But there are many ways to solve a problem, and allowing for various viewpoints sparks collaboration and innovation.
In a relationship, these differences of opinion can help us see the world in a new way if we are open to learning. “I’ve been grateful to have a wider perspective,” Safer says. “It may not have changed my mind, but it’s changed my spirit.”
Keys to relationship success despite political differences
When dating someone with different political views, it’s important to be proactive and set expectations to ensure your relationship does not devolve into a political battleground. However, both members of a relationship need to be willing to put in the work. If you expect your partner to compromise on everything without doing any work yourself, that’s a personal red flag. My husband and I rely on these five tips for talking about politics that can help you get started.
Set boundaries together. Establish when, where and how you will talk about politics. For example, you may not want to discuss political disagreements at the dinner table, or you may find it more comfortable to discuss them in your home rather than at your in-laws’ house. According to Forbes, boundaries create safety in relationships and build trust — both vital in situations that could become argumentative.
Keep respect at the forefront. When conversations get heated, we tend to activate our defenses and view the other person as a threat instead of as a human being. If things feel too tense, pause the conversation until tempers cool. It can be helpful during this pause to remind yourself of the characteristics your partner has that you value.
Don’t go in with expectations to change your partner’s mind. While relationships are often about growing together, it is unhealthy and unfair to expect your partner to change their political views to match yours. This mindset often leads to disappointment. Instead, approach conversations with a true desire to understand their beliefs. Safer tells the Knot, “Most people go in feeling desperately or passionately that we should change their partner’s mind … Forget this immediately and you’ll save your marriage.”
Listen to understand rather than to respond. Ask questions that allow you to get curious about your partner’s beliefs. These questions should not be accusatory, but rather explorative. Understanding differences builds empathy. Verywell Mind suggests asking your partner several questions to build respect: “What does your position mean to you? What values/experiences have led you to feel and think this way? What is your ideal dream? What do you want/need?”
Find common ground. “There’s a lot to a person in addition to their politics,” says Brookhiser, per the Knot. If a relationship is to succeed, it is more important to have common core values than common political policy beliefs. When things get too tense, return to your common ground.
I won’t say it’s easy. Sometimes I would love it if my husband would just agree with me on everything — but that would not allow either of us to grow or maintain our individuality. If we didn’t have political differences, we would have other differences. Our differences allow us to practice being respectful, accepting diversity of thought, expressing empathy and actively listening and understanding. Politics are not a deal breaker for us — and if I had given myself that rule while dating, I would have missed out on an amazing marriage.