How Talking Politics Can Help A Relationship

Politics is a subject we often steer clear of, especially if our natural inclination is to avoid conflict or any kind of unpleasant conversation in a social setting. It's far easier to talk about a Netflix show you watched last evening or how your day is going. Within a romantic setting, politics is one of the last things we are encouraged to discuss, right up there with religion and in-law talk. Who needs more fodder for conflict when you already have the dirty dishes from last night to help you in that department? 

But it's hard to avoid the matters of global significance that are shaping our world. Whether we like it or not, topics like racial injustice, corrupt politicians, or unfair law enforcement practices have a way of filtering into our daily lives, and sometimes our most intimate relationships. And rightly so, according to clinical psychologist and couples therapist Orna Guralnik writing for The New York Times Magazine. Guralnik wrote that movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter have influenced people in relationships to dig deep and have difficult conversations, and this has helped them grow. "As a collective, we appear to be coming around to the idea that bigger social forces run through us, animating us and pitting us against one another, whatever our conscious intentions. To invert a truism, the political is personal," Guralnik shared.

Even if you and your partner are political opposites, engaging in meaningful debate can be helpful. Here's why.  

Talking politics can be an exercise in communication and intimacy

No matter how long you've lived with someone, they are not going to become similar to you in every way, and politics is a good reminder of that. Much like with religion, our political views often drive how we live our lives. Talking politics with your significant other is a good way to dig beneath the superficial things and get to know your partner, and even if you don't like what you find, it's a lesson in respecting differences and agreeing to disagree. In some instances, you might even uncover common ground.  

It might also give you an opportunity to learn how to handle conflict in your relationship. The blueprint is the same — listen actively and communicate respectfully. Fighting fairly is an area many couples struggle in, and discussing matters of political significance could help. Relationship expert and psychotherapist Neil Wilkie shared in Harper's Bazaar that talking politics with your partner is about respecting two freedoms: "freedom to differ" and "freedom to be an individual." According to Guralnik, it's about understanding that your partner and you have an "otherness" that is separate from you and the relationship. 

Sociologist and clinical sexologist Sarah Melancon thinks that exploring this "otherness" can even build erotic chemistry. She told Good Housekeeping, "By debating with your partner, you experience the differences between you, which can heighten the desire to come together sexually."

How to discuss political matters with your significant other

It's important to go into the conversation to listen, understand, and grow rather than belittle or influence. It is not about who is right or wrong, but about arriving at the underlying belief behind your partner's views, according to couples therapist Shane Birkel on TikTok. You might come away more enlightened about your partner (and maybe even the world) than you were before. If it helps, establish some ground rules and even a pre-established time limit for the discussion. 

Try to find a time and place when both of you are in the mood to discuss something of importance and avoid bringing topics up in a social setting where others might not feel like joining the debate. Be open to listening for the sake of listening and not for the purpose of rebutting what your partner believes. Wilkie shared in Harper's Bazaar that establishing a politics-free zone (like your bedroom for example) and agreeing when to drop the subject are also important. "To keep on picking at the scab will just cause discomfort," he added. 

Talking politics with your significant other is a healthy relationship habit most people think is toxic, but only if you can learn to do it right. As Guralnik wrote in The New York Times Magazine, "Love is ultimately measured by people's capacity to see and care about the other person as they are; succeeding in this effort is how people in relationships grow."