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?

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