There's something about politics that can turn even the most sensitive and loving couple against one another. But there's something about this election, in which the first ever female presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, will face off against a brusque billionaire businessman, Donald Trump, that's especially polarizing between partners.
"Politics can be a hot-button issue because they cut to the core of people's values and what they believe is right," explains Jane Greer, Ph.D., relationship expert and author of What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship.
What's more, points out etiquette and relationship expert April Masini, couples often (perhaps subconsciously) impose a black-and-white political litmus test for their partners: Hate my candidate, hate me; love my candidate, love me, explains Masini. "When politics become a hot button issue, it's usually because couples have strong feelings without a lot of empathy or room for gray areas," she says.
Plus, with this election, "the atmosphere is more toxic than usual," says Lesli Doares, marriage coach and author of Blueprint For a Lasting Marriage. Emotions are raw, language is, err, harsh and sometimes downright dirty. Because of that, "it is very difficult to keep emotions in check," Doares says, "and this can pose real problems in your relationship."
But it doesn't have to. Your partner can vote for Donald Trump and you can support Hillary Clinton (or a third party candidate, for that matter) without any harm coming to your relationship. Here's how.
1. Stick to the facts.
When it comes to talking politics with your partner, "simply present the facts of what a candidate has said, without adding your opinion," suggests Greer. "That way, you won't provoke an argument or disagreement. It allows room for discussion, but it doesn't make your partner feel judged or criticized." More importantly, she adds, "never insult or belittle their opinions," if one or two sneaks into the conversation.
2. Don't give it more importance than it's worth.
To some, it may seem like the world will end if Trump is elected. And vice versa for Clinton. But, "[try to] be aware that, in most cases, the outcome of any given election will have limited direct impact on your life," says Doares. "Weighing any one event against your life together should be done carefully. Making your relationship a priority is always a choice and making this choice as often as possible will make it successful."
3. Use this as an opportunity to learn about one another.
As Masini points out, "Any conflict is an opportunity for growth." And that includes conflict over politics. "So take a few steps back and imagine why your partner has an opposing view," Masini encourages. "Most people react instead of analyzing and considering the opposing side's views and how they got there. If you can open a discussion with 'why' questions instead of coming out swinging, you may learn a lot about your partner and yourself, and you may become more intimate because of this deeper understanding and cleared channel of communication."
4. Put boundaries in place.
Don't let your disagreements over this election eek out into other aspects of your life. Instead, Greer says, set up boundaries for when and where you will discuss politics so that it doesn't impose on your otherwise healthy relationship. "Don't discuss politics with each other out in public," she suggests. Also consider that date nights and before bed are also not the best time to debate your candidates' foreign policy plans. "And if necessary, don't discuss them at all and just allow your partner to independently explore their own political interests," says Greer.
5. Cool your self-righteousness and certainty.
According to Doares, "It's easy to slip into a superior position when you believe you are right." But with your partner, it's important to not politically posture. "Anything that diminishes your partner's viewpoint, even if you don't agree with it, hurts your relationship," she explains. be open and receptive to your partner's viewpoints, and walk away if you feel the need to tell him or her just how wrong he or she is.
6. Be a diplomat yourself.
Do you ever notice that super-savvy candidates often lead with a compliment? So should you when you talk politics with your partner, says Masini, who suggests you "start by approving and complimenting something about your partner's choice. You can say, 'It's great that you're so passionate,' or 'I can really see how you feel that way.'" Only then should you calmly express your opposing view. "If you can turn the conversation from battle to banter or make or break opposition to friendly sport, you have a much better chance of preserving differences and the relationship," says Masini.
7. Don't turn your friends against your partner.
If your friends all support the same candidate as you, it might be tempting to get them to gang up on your partner. However, "don't use them to take sides against your partner," warns Greer, "because it's really divisive, and your partner will feel unsupported and even betrayed by you." Doares agrees, adding that your political debates should be kept between you two, and not made fodder for gossip amongst friends.