Can we date our political opposites?

Here are 6 ways to keep the election from killing your love life

Dr. Paul DePompo
Photos by Gage Skidmore

During this polarizing election, can your “political enemy” still be your running mate in life? Studies say that 77% of people avoid discussing politics — but while you can hide your cousin’s Trump rants from your Newsfeed, you can’t shut out your partner.

A healthy relationship requires vulnerability. When our partners feel differently about things we care about, we tend to project catastrophic potential consequences. However, you can strive to understand your partner’s political identification without defining him or her by it. An important aspect of love is trying to understand the incomprehensible, and accepting what we cannot understand.

For example, if you are inherently neat and your partner is inherently sloppy, you can’t change that — but you can accept that these traits will likely not change. We can be in love regardless of our differences.

“What if our political differences break us apart?”

You and your partner had different parents, so of course you grew up with some different values! The different values aren’t the problem as much as the assumptions you make about them.

Here are common assumptions that people make regarding differing political opinions in their relationship:

“If we have different values, then we can’t have the capacity to truly love each other.”

“We must have the same values or it says something bad about us as a couple.”

“If we disagree, then our love is flawed. He can’t love this candidate AND love me!”

“If she believes something so wrong, how can I tolerate her?”

“If my partner has these qualities, then there is no way I will be happy and fulfilled in this relationship!”

These assumptions don’t have to be true. They are based on the expectation that we should always have the same core values as our partner. However, plenty of hardcore politicians report a happy, healthy relationship, even when they disagree with their partner’s political views (e.g., Roosevelt, Ford, Bush, Jr., Carville, Matalin).


The following are common political values differences and their associated good intentions. Remember, you don’t have to agree, only understand where they’re coming from.

Abortion

  • Values a woman’s right to control what happens to her body.
  • Values the idea that “life” has formed and is precious.

Immigration

  • Values “helping” avenues to citizenship over deportation.
  • Values “fairness” against amnesty for undocumented immigrants.

Taxes

  • Values “responsibility” for wealthier people to pay more.
  • Values “fairness” related to everyone paying a “flat tax”

Government Regulation

  • Values “caring” for consumers, protecting them from big business.
  • Values “freedom” of people to make their own decisions, and allowing free market.

Healthcare

  • Values government involvement in universal healthcare to make sure all are covered.
  • Values people having their “own choice” with less government involvement and to not “force” people to buy insurance.

The Military

  • Values spending money more on education and social programs.
  • Values “protecting” the people.

Gay Marriage

  • Values equal rights for all.
  • Values tradition.

Regardless of which values you most strongly identify with, you can click into the fact that your partner has developed their values with good intentions.


“We are constantly mudslinging — what should we do?”

  1. Stop Trying to Change Your Partner’s Mind

Your goal should not be to change your partner’s mind or make your partner see that you are right. If your goal is to change their mind or assassinate their party’s character, then make the topic off-limits for the time being because you aren’t ready to talk about it!

For example, a woman named Maria noticed that when she tried to get Mark to change his negative opinion about Hillary Clinton, she would become enraged and they would have an argument. They decided not to discuss or even make comments about Hillary Clinton for a while, and Maria realized that forcing Mark to have a favorable opinion of the politician was not a “must-have” in her marriage.

2. Be Curious

You may not be aware of this, but everyone’s beliefs originally come from a place of good intentions. Find the good intentions behind your partner’s beliefs.

When Mark would go on a tirade about his tax money supporting those less fortunate than he, Maria felt angry because she viewed him as being stingy and selfish. In turn, she was afraid that his perceived “selfishness” would eventually make Mark a “bad” husband and father. When she approached Mark about this, she discovered that he gets riled up about taxes, not because he is selfish, but because he is concerned about being able to save enough money for retirement.

3. Stop Asking ‘Why’ Questions

Questions that begin with ‘why’ are disguised criticisms. The recipients response can only be to get defensive, or to say, “I guess I’m a dummy.”

When Maria asked Mark ‘why’ he is against abortion and women’s right to choose, Mark felt attacked and criticized, which led to a heated argument. When she listened to his opinion without asking ‘why,’ she was able to better understand that his Catholic upbringing caused him to view the issue as protecting God’s creation. It is easier to see the good intentions of both sides without the “why?” His Catholic values was something that she admired in their early stages of the relationship.

4. Listen

This doesn’t mean sitting silently until it’s your turn to speak. This means really taking in what your partner is saying and repeating it back to make sure you understood. Find bits and pieces of what your partner says that you can agree with, and then validate those bits. This doesn’t mean to agree totally!

Maria was able to agree with Mark when he stated his opinion that life is a miracle, even though they disagreed about when life begins.

5. Let Your Partner Influence You

Relationships that stay together for the long haul are ones in which partners allow themselves to be influenced. This doesn’t mean switching parties, but being open to some of the ideas presented by the opposing side.

Mark allowed himself to soften up about his opinion of Hillary Clinton when Maria pointed out her resilience and many years of experience in politics. When Mark started to view the politician as someone who has overcome many challenges, he was able to appreciate her journey without feeling as angry about her viewpoints or the pressure to switch sides.

6. Agree to Disagree

This does not mean, “Let’s agree that you are wrong.” Truly agreeing to disagree is about acceptance. At the end of the day, you are not your partner and your partner is not you. You have differences. These political debates have been going on over 160 years and won’t stop anytime soon. Ultimately it is your partner that you benefit from accepting unconditionally, not Donald or Hillary.


Trying to change your partner’s political beliefs or assuming they can’t be a good partner in light of their beliefs will lead to a lame-duck relationship! Eventually you will both have successors fill your roles.

If politics are important to you, you can still have your own political debates together.

It takes a special candidate to look for the good intentions, to really listen when they disagree, and to show the ability to agree to disagree. Just like our presidential candidates, these skills will help you cross over party lines, and to make real change in your relationship. You and your partner both want good things in the world, and especially in your relationship. This is certainly something you can both agree on.

Dr. Paul DePompo

Written by

Dr. Paul DePompo is a psychologist, author, speaker, and founder of the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Institute of Southern California. http://drpauldepompo.com

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