What To Do When You And Your Partner Are Political Opposites

Imagine falling in love with someone only to discover that their political opinions make your skin crawl. Is this a red flag in your dating life? Or another nightmare scenario: your long-term partner has switched to the political side that you abhor. It may sound like the plot of a bad rom-com, but politically mismatched partnerships are far from fictitious. If your relationship with your partner has been tested by political strife, you are not alone. According to a 2020 survey, 21% of U.S. spouses are married to someone who belongs to a different political party (via The Hill).

These days, the rift between political parties feels more like a black hole, swallowing up civility, cooperation, and quite a few relationships. In 2017, Wakefield Research found that 29% of couples had experienced a strain on their relationship due to politics. The survey also revealed that 11% of couples called it quits over their political differences. This data may seem staggering, but it certainly doesn't mean the end of times for all politically divided pairings. With compromise, communication, and a deep mutual understanding, some couples are able to rise above their political disharmony and have lifelong relationships.

Consider how politics fit into your life

If political affairs have you feeling uncertain about your relationship, a good starting point is to consider how politics factor into your sense of identity. The more you care about politics, the more likely it is that you'll want your partner to have similar convictions (via The Hill). On the other hand, if politics are less important to you, then your lover's opposing beliefs might be a lot easier to live with.

Fortunately, love can still flourish if you and your partner don't have the exact same political views. A little bit of political discord can actually be great for your relationship. Your opposing views could spark some interesting conversations, and they might give you fresh perspective on certain political issues. However, the waters could get murky if your partner disagrees about the issues that are most important to you — or worse, if they subscribe to political beliefs that you consider problematic or bigoted. In this case, the question is, can you see yourself sharing a life with someone who doesn't share your views on key issues?

According to Nicole Issa, respect is a key ingredient for happiness in a politically divided romance. The therapist told Elite Daily, "If politics are of paramount importance to you and your partner's difference of opinion really grates on your nerves or leads you to lose respect for them, that would be a bad sign."

Discuss your personal and political values

According to Psychology Today, core values are a set of beliefs and principles that determine your priorities in life. Similar to how we vote for the policies and candidates that best align with our core values, we tend to seek partners who share our convictions. An expert at Bustle suggests that couples discuss their values and beliefs early in the relationship. Your innermost values will tell you a lot about what you need in a romantic partner. If your and your lover's values are out of alignment, it will be much more difficult to overcome your political disharmony, because one of you will ultimately be compromising your core values in order to hold onto the relationship.

If your partner's opposing political views aren't outright deal breakers, it could mean that there's hope for a bright future — as long as you're both willing to put in the work. According to dating psychologist Madeleine Mason Roantree, partners with compatible values have the best odds of navigating political discord. As Roantree explained to The Independent, "The bond you have with someone has to supersede political views if it's ever going to work. There has to be a level of respect there too, towards the other person, and an acceptance that they might have different views."

Focus on issues that you both agree on

If it feels like politics are tearing you and your beloved apart, try taking a detour to focus on the issues that bring you closer together. Make it a point to discuss political topics that you agree on, and enjoy the experience of sharing why each of you are passionate about that issue. In a conversation with Vice, psychiatrist Abha Bang Soni explained that this balance is key, because otherwise, "it becomes difficult to see through the haze, and you end up forgetting your [common] values and principles that aligned you in the first place."

And remember, your relationship shouldn't be all politics all the time. You and your sweetheart probably have lots of common interests, and it's important that you don't let your partisan rivalry overshadow them. If leaning into your shared interests isn't enough to free you from your political rut, consider trying out some new habits and activities that you can enjoy together, per Psychology Today. According to clinical psychologist Marc Hekster, "A couple need to have sufficient in common at this core values level, and if this is the case, then political differences can become a source of stimulation and interest, rather than a source of conflict and ultimately dissonance" (via The Independent).

Set boundaries around political discussions

Some people live for a good political spar. If that's the case, then you and your sweetie might genuinely enjoy your politically mismatched partnership. This was true for one Stylecaster reader, who told the publication, ​​"I like that I've found someone with different opinions who can challenge me in a good way. There are times when we both get defensive, but we talk through it, and it's made us into more informed voters." However, if your political clashes are consuming the relationship, then it might be time to set some boundaries.

For starters, establish a zone in your home, such as the bedroom, where political talk is absolutely off-limits, per Harper's Bazaar. Additionally, you don't have to address political conflict the moment that it bubbles up. Instead, schedule a time to hash it out later. This will give both of you the chance to clear your minds and get relaxed for the conversation ahead.

Noam Ostrander, a professor of social work, told Time that communication tends to break down as soon as the stress hormones start flowing. Therefore, calling a timeout is a great way to diffuse an argument before it gets too heated. In this scenario, Ostrander proposes, "Perhaps somebody says, 'Okay, I want to have this conversation. I need like 10 minutes to calm down. I love you, I'm not going anywhere.'" The conversation can resume after a quick cool-down period.

Communication is key

Although it may feel safer to run from political discussions, remember that political differences, at their core, are just like any other type of relationship conflict: you can't avoid talking about them. According to Very Well Mind, good communication has endless advantages for your love life. In addition to building a deeper bond with your partner, communicating your thoughts and feelings also helps avoid resentment — a slippery, damaging slope for lovers. If your political differences are reaching destructive levels, you can't afford to let the bad vibes pile up. Plus, talking civilly about your politics "can lead to deeper understanding of perceptions, personal experiences, traumas, family, culture, religious values, morals, etc., which have shaped a partner's beliefs and perceptions," psychotherapist Imani Movva told Cosmopolitan.

Be thoughtful about how and when you engage in political talk. If your conversations begin with hostility, you probably won't resolve anything. Be sure that your tone is more gentle and less demanding. Approach your partner with respect and curiosity, rather than judgment, per NPR. When emotions run high — as they often do with politics — turning the conversation around is no easy task. Fortunately, good communication becomes easier the more you practice it; so, communicate often. In a discussion with Bustle, therapist Anita A. Chlipala emphasized, "If you can respectively disagree and understand why they believe what they do, it's a promising sign that you can make it work."

Be a good listener

You don't have to read a stack of self-help books to have better political discussions with your partner. In fact, you can start simply by building your listening skills. Active listening techniques, such as validating your partner's feelings, can help soften these difficult conversations, per Psych Central. To be sure that you're really holding space for what your partner says during political discussions, take a breath or two before responding.

There's no use in harping on your partner's political views, no matter how wrong or misguided you think they are. Even if you fervently disagree with their opinion, remind yourself that they are a good person who is acting in good faith. As expert Wendy Patrick explained to Women's Health, "Everyone wants national security, jobs, good education, safe communities, access to quality health care — and the list goes on and on." Even though you see the world through different political lenses, you and your partner both have the same intention: you want the best for yourselves and for your community.

Nonverbal cues also let your partner know that you're listening and validating their opinions. According to Elite Daily, little gestures like holding their hand or sitting close can help you feel more connected, even in conflict.

Let your voice be heard

Remember that healthy communication is a two-way street; you deserve the same respect and understanding that you give to your loved one. No matter which side it's coming from, criticism and contempt over differing political views are a sign of trouble in your relationship, per Very Well Mind. According to clinical psychologist Stan Selinger, it's critical to realize when political disconnect has lured you into a cycle of miscommunication. "What typically happens is that [partners] take a defensive position," Selinger told Better. "One person says, 'This is my view' and the other person responds that he or she is foolish or stupid instead of trying to understand. They make it a win-lose situation. They attack each other and that usually leads to cutting off the discussion and they just don't talk about it."

If your other half outright disrespects your political views, speak up. It's important to point out the hurtful behavior and let your partner know how you feel about it, per Medium. Communicating your needs is a healthy relationship habit, so don't be shy about asking your partner to be more considerate of your opinions.

Keep the drama off social media

There's nothing like the secondhand embarrassment of a friend or family member hurling political rants all over the internet. It's especially awkward when your partner is the one doling out those political hot takes. If your relationship is already suffering due to political differences, you should think twice before using the internet to air your arguments and grievances. After all, we all know that social media is where civil discussion goes to die.

If your partner is posting political content that you disapprove of, it may be tempting to put them in their place with a public, vitriolic reply. But as expert Leslie Shore explained to Brides, this type of reaction could be disastrous for your relationship. Shore advises, "Keep your personal conversations personal. There is no need to take your private life public."

Although both sides are free to have their own political opinions, the best course of action might be to ignore the irritating post and wait for an appropriate time to bring it up in person. However, if you feel that you must confront your partner on social media, Very Well Family suggests waiting 24 hours. This time frame will give you a chance to process the situation and come up with a well-thought-out response, rather than acting on emotional impulse. Or you might find you don't need to respond at all.

Practice mindfulness

We typically think of mindfulness as a way to slow down and connect with our feelings and emotions. Mindfulness has numerous benefits, and it can do wonders for your communication. When political conflicts arise, mindfulness can help you stay calm, non-judgemental, and open-minded. Practicing some simple, mindful tricks can help you listen and communicate more effectively during politically charged moments.

Marriage and family therapist Linda Graham incorporates mindfulness into her couples therapy practice. In an article for Greater Good Magazine, Graham explained that dealing with conflict mindfully means being aware of what you feel. Start by taking a few deep breaths and try observing your thoughts and emotions, without labeling them as "good" or "bad." When you acknowledge your physical and emotional experience, it can help you take responsibility for your own feelings and reactions. According to Graham, accepting those emotions helps you focus on them less, so that you can give more attention to your partner.

If you're new to mindfulness, you might start simply by sitting quietly for a few minutes and observing your thoughts without judging them or trying to change them, per Psychology Today. And remember that mindfulness is just like any other skill: it gets easier as you continue to practice it.

Give therapy a try

So, you've tried to set boundaries and improve communication with your partner, but your joy is still being sapped by political disharmony. If you've had your fill of political strife, you might consider trying couples therapy. There's absolutely no shame in taking your problems to a professional. In fact, therapy can be a vital resource for building strength, intimacy, and connection with your partner, which will benefit you even beyond your political woes. For some politically polarized couples, therapy can be a godsend. A therapist will help you and your partner share your ideas and opinions in the healthiest way possible.

Usually, there's a web of emotions and assumptions that underlie a couple's political conflict. As Faith Dulin explained to She Knows, "Political disagreements can feel incredibly painful. If our partner has different or opposing views, we tend to take it personally and feel misunderstood." But a great therapist can help you work through those emotional roadblocks. "The keys to navigating these tough discussions are to listen to your partner and understand where they're coming from. Ask questions. 'Why do you feel that way?' or 'Why is this issue important to you?'"

Recognize when it may be time to let go

If political conflict has driven you to a state of resentment and bitterness with no end in sight, then it may be time to assess the future of your relationship. Trying to work out your differences is an amazing act of strength and commitment, but it's important to remember that you cannot change your partner, per advice from Insider. Both of you deserve to have a future that mirrors your values and goals. Breakups can be incredibly painful — however, if it's time to end the relationship, have faith in yourself and trust that you're making the right decision.

According to psychotherapist JaNaè Taylor, respect is the best policy when dealing with a breakup. "Even if your differences are too fundamental, and you decide to respectfully part ways, this is someone you cared about and who cared about you," Taylor told Refinery29. "I think part of it is having the conversation where you say, 'As much as I care about you ... we're not going to agree, and we need to acknowledge that fact. Because of that, I think it's best if we go our separate ways.'"

Just like voting, dating gives us the power to make life-changing choices. Whatever you choose in relation to your love life, remember that a bright future awaits you.