Saturday, October 27, 2012

(A Feeble Attempt At A) Survival Guide To A Bipartisan Marriage

Okay, to preface, my husband and I are not bipartisan in the split 2-party, one is a Democrat, the other is a Republican sense of the term.  My husband is a Republican and I am a Libertarian.  This brings a whole different level of difficult into the mix, because on some issues we are on the same page, and others, we're on polar opposite ends of the political spectrum.  I am not going to delve into where we stand on each and every little issue, policy, or politician, because that would take all day, and is completely irrelevant to the topic at hand anyway.

Over the years I have searched the 'net for articles, links, blog posts...something....anything....that was a good guide to go off of for how to navigate a bi-partisan marriage.  Everything I have found has been, in my opinion, not very thorough, and because its dealing with people who are on completely opposite ends of the spectrum and written by people who work for online magazines and have to keep it "fluffy," I feel like they aren't very "real."  They talk about spouses arguing about one particular candidate, or one specific issue, or one particular election.  But for my husband and I, our split views extend beyond any particular candidate, touch more than one issue, and once this upcoming election is over, regardless of who wins, our differences will remain.  Buttons will continue to get pushed, things will continue to ruffle our feathers, and we will have to continue to navigate our differing political opinions.

All of the articles I read had a nice "happy ending."  Sorry.  In the "real world," with someone who isn't getting paid thousands of dollars to sit down and write about this issue, you are going to hear the truth.  I have no agenda but to share my honest experiences and opinions, so I have nothing to lose if people don't want to hear the truth.

So here is my list - my "survival guide" - to managing my bipartisan marriage.  These are in no particular order other than the order they popped into my head.  No one point is any more or less important than any other on this list.  And this is by no means a conclusive list.  I am sure there are many other points, and I may add some to this blog in the future.  But here's what I have for now, and I think its a pretty good list.  At least for myself, if nobody else.  (I also think these principles can be applied to handling differing opinions with anyone close to you - parents, teen/grown children, siblings, friends, co-workers....)

#1 -- Come to terms with the fact that its going to be an ongoing issue.
Let's be honest.  You can't just get through one election or issue, and then....*poof!*....your political ideologies somehow magically align, and you never disagree again.  That's utterly ridiculous!  Its ridiculous, because you're dealing with deeply personal beliefs; beliefs that have formed out of decades of societal shaping and personal experiences.  No two peoples' upbringings, social circles, or life experiences are ever going to be exactly the same, so its naive to think that any two people will ever think completely alike on political matters....or anything, for that matter.  So to expect those beliefs to change, to just magically, suddenly gel with yours, is completely ridiculous!  You cannot undo in a day what has taken decades to form!  You know nobody could undo your belief system in a day, so to expect that of someone else is just as crazy.  How do I know this?  Because on the eve of the November 2008 election, as soon as the results were in that Obama had won, my husband and I had a huge blow-up over the results!  The results being in may have brought a "resolution" to the election, but it was far from bringing a resolution to our differing opinions.  In fact, if anything, it only threw a few thousands more logs on that fire!

#2 -- Quit thinking you can change your spouse's mind.
This is kind of an extension of the last one, but again, you can't undo in a day - or even a week, month, year, or decade - what has taken decades of life experiences to establish.  You just can't.  Furthermore, your spouse is who they are.  You love them for who they are, right?  Then you need to accept that they are a different person, with a different upbringing and different life experiences, and that has shaped their views.  If you don't accept it, then in essence, you aren't accepting your spouse for who they are, and it sends the message that you think everything they've experienced is "wrong," since you are treating their views as "wrong."  You don't have to agree with their views, but you do have to respect the fact that their views are just as sacred to them as yours are to you.  When you try and change your spouse's mind, then you aren't respecting them and the life experiences that have led them to hold the beliefs they hold.  Instead of expending so much energy pointing out every single way you think their thinking is wrong, why don't you take the time to listen (make sure to bite your tongue) and at least try and understand why they believe what they believe, and what has brought them to that belief.  You still don't have to agree, but at least you'll have some much-needed insight, and you won't leave your spouse feeling disrespected in the process.

#3 -- Don't talk politics at the dinner table.  (Especially if you have children!)
A few years ago, we had to implement a "no politics at the dinner table" rule.  We would talk politics at the table so often that we began to miss those sweet moments hearing about each other's day, and what was going on with our kids.  Instead, dinnertime was turned it into this heated, intense - and, for our children, awkward - part of the evening that would often end in raised voices, and sometimes full-on arguments.  I guess the deeper issue with this one is, don't let politics hijack more important moments on the home front.  If political debates (which often turn into arguments) are taking time and attention away from truly connecting with each other and your children, then it has crossed a line.  Set some boundaries and stick to them!

#4 -- Don't ambush each other.
This is similar to the one above, in that, its about setting parameters.  Probably the single most-likely-to-make-us-argue-about-politics-instead-of-discuss-it-civilly offense is what I call ambushing.  You know...  You read a politically-related article online (or talk to a friend, or read something on Facebook...) that really gets you fired up about something.  You know your spouse has a differing opinion, and this is "proof" of how wrong it is, so you just have to point it out to them, to "prove" to them that you are "right" and they are "wrong."  I guarantee - to the point I would put money on it, and I am not a betting person - that your spouse won't be responsive to your ambush!  Nobody likes waking up in the morning and immediately having their viewpoints attacked.  Nobody likes walking in the door after an exhausting day at work to this either.  Or listening to it while they're trying to fall asleep.  Its not at all pleasant, and let's be honest, you know its not going to be a productive conversation!  Rarely, if ever, is anyone swayed by you getting up in their face and questioning their beliefs when they least expect it.  Trust me, the only thing it ever produces in my house is an argument.  Save yourself and your spouse both the trouble - just don't even go there.

#5 -- Avoid the "hot buttons" like the plague.
I probably don't need to explain, but the "hot buttons" are the issues that you are most passionately polar opposite on.  For us, its anything and everything related to war and the Middle East.  Inevitably, if this topic comes up, it gets ugly.  Sure, it still gets brought up (by both of us) now and then, but we've both gotten better in the past 4-6 months at saying, "Okay, we aren't going to see eye to eye on this.  We're not discussing this further."  He can have his viewpoints and I can have mine.  Its clear neither of us are going to budge, we're just going to butt heads, raise our voices, get our feelings hurt (well, me at least), and end up mad at each other, so we need to just not even go there.  Its better to just avoid that topic, or shut it down when it comes up, than argue til we're blue in the face and end up mad at each other all day.

#6 -- Try not to sway your children.
This is probably the trickiest one for me.  My almost-11 year old son likes to talk politics with me, and so he has begun to form political opinions very much like my own.  Part of me wants to yell, "Woohoo!"  But part of me also feels like I have failed to teach him to think objectively.  I want him to hear and consider his dad's views as much as mine.  I don't want to sway him to only my way of thinking, because I know to my husband (and the outside world), it probably looks like I am telling him what to believe, and that only my way is "right."  Which is anything but my goal!  Ultimately, I want my kids to grow up to consider all sides of all the politicians and issues out there, and I don't want my husband (or anyone else) to think I am pitting his son against him politically.  I am working at trying to encourage my son to have these discussions with his dad, too.  Beyond that, I am still trying to work out the bugs on how to navigate this issue.  I just know that is isn't healthy to tell your kids to think, believe, and do exactly like you do.  I want my children to be open-minded and form their own, educated opinions for themselves.

#7 -- Avoid personal attacks.
This one is so "no duh," that I wondered if I even needed to include it.  But considering its one I struggle with a lot, I think that it needs to be in here.  I do think its the most obvious one on the list, but I also think its probably the toughest one to avoid when you are in the heat of the debate.  Its so easy to fall into saying things like, "You're wrong," "You're off-base."  "Where did you hear that fact?"  And so on and so forth.  Anything that insults your spouse is not okay.  To imply they aren't as informed as you are, or that they aren't as capable of forming intelligent opinions is over the line.  And I say this as a woman who is very guilty of doing this on multiple occasions.  It hurts your spouse, it hurts your marriage, it sets a bad example for your children, and after the whole issue has blown over, you end up feeling like a terrible person.  Trust me, its not worth it.  If you can't debate civilly, then keep your mouth shut.  If it starts to get ugly, walk away.  Don't stoop to personal attacks.  You will regret it.

Again, this is by no means a list that covers everything, but here it is.  My feeble attempt at a survival guide to bipartisan marriage.

Do you think I missed anything important?  How do you handle political discord with your spouse?  Any advice for me?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


This has been one of those weeks (or two or three...) that have really had me focused on the concept of "purpose."

I have been fortunate, in that, I have always felt that I have a purpose, and have always had a clear idea of what that is.  Like everyone, I have had my moments, days, weeks, and even months when I've thought, "Why am I here?  What am I supposed to be doing?  Am I doing the right things?  Is my life moving in the direction it should be?"  But I have always come back to a sense of peace about my choices, my life, and my reason for being.

I believe everyone has a purpose.  I don't believe there is a single person who's been put on this earth by accident.  Not for a second.  I do believe, though, that there are a lot of people who have never paused to reflect and figure out what it is.  I also think, based on my experiences with different people, that there are people out there who think we're all ordained for the same purpose.  My opinion is, we're not.

I can't define anyone else's purpose, and nobody else can define mine.  I don't think I can even fully define my own with words.  But I do think that at the heart of every life's purpose should be humanity and love for others, and making the world a better place.

purpose, in my opinion, isn't just self-serving.  Sure, we all love notoriety - that pat on the back when we win an award, or graduate college with honors, or earn a promotion - but if all we ever do and achieve in life is for ourselves, then I believe the true purpose has been missed.  Purpose has to be about making a difference.

I also believe that our purpose doesn't have to be outwardly grandiose.  I would love to do something outwardly grandiose, such as ministry and humanitarian aid in a war-torn, Muslim nation.  (Call me crazy, but I really, really would like to do that!)  But for me and my life, in there here and now, being a mother to 3 young kids, that's just not practical.  That's not the path that has been laid out for me 
(or at least not right now).  For me, in my life, right here and right now, I believe my purpose lies in raising kids that are kind-hearted, loving, caring individuals who will impact their world in a positive way, taking care of people in my own community, and being the most supportive mother, wife, sister, friend, and neighbor I can possibly be.  There's nothing about that, that is flashy or showy.  Nothing that makes me look good on paper.  No monetary gain, and usually nothing given in return.  Nothing that says, "Congratulations, Megan, you accomplished something great."

But you know what?  It fulfills me.  I wake up every morning happy to have the life I have, and happy to make the small differences I can.  I believe a smile to a stranger in a grocery store can be a powerful thing.  I believe giving a kid at the elementary school something to laugh about is important.  I believe raising my kids to unconditionally love and respect other people is the biggest gift I can give the world.  And so those are the things I do.

That is me, though.  I recognize that some people don't have kids, or don't enjoy being with them.  I understand that some people (including my better half) are painfully shy, and to them talking to and smiling at random strangers feels just plain weird and creepy.  And I know some people truly are destined to do the "big things"; to be the leaders, activists, lobbyists, missionaries, politicians....  So do it!  Whatever your calling in life is - whatever you feel you were put on this earth to do to make life better for others, be it grandiose or not - go do it!

When you start living with a sense of true, selfless purpose, you will feel more fulfilled yourself.  I know it sounds simple...or cliche...or...whatever....but I do believe that.  Perhaps the most "fulfilled" individuals I know aren't the ones with huge houses, the latest iPhones and whatnot, fancy cars, and lucrative jobs.  They are, instead, just regular, "average Joe" people who love life and love others and know passionately what they were put on this earth to do.  And some of the most "miserable" people I know are people who have lots of friends, money, and toys, but just float by day to day going through the motions.

I'm not saying we should blow off working, paying bills, and being responsible, or that we should sell off our "toys," move somewhere else, or...anything else.  We have to be realistic.  But within any life, underneath all the day-to-days, is something we are truly meant to do to make this world better.  And w
e don't always have to do it "right" - we just have to do it.  Because if we don't, then we sell ourselves and our world short of what only we can offer.  I can't do what you are meant to do, and you can't do what I am meant to do.  Only you have your specific talents, gifts, and unique personality traits that make you the perfect person to live out your specific purpose.

I'm not claiming to have all the answers to life's existential questions.  But I do know that being in touch with your true purpose and pursuing is passionately is the key thing to living a life that fulfills you (and others).  I work every day to strengthen my own sense of purpose and live for it.  Its not always fun, its not always easy, and it definitely can be monotonous (another episode of Blue's Clues, anyone?), but its worth it.  

How about you?  Do you know what your true purpose is?  Are you living it?  What changes do you need to make to take it to the next level?