Crucial Skills®

A Blog by Crucial Learning

Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue

Is Politics Hurting Your Marriage? Here’s What You Can Do

Dear Emily,

I’ve used the techniques from Crucial Conversations in both personal and business situations with success but am now faced with the most critical conversation ever and I don’t know what to do. My husband has become increasingly enmeshed in politics. He is almost blindly devoted to Donald Trump and watches Fox News every night. My politics are far more central and I am a Democrat, and we are at odds. Despite being retired, we spend very little time together. I feel I cannot discuss or respond to his comments about fake news or politics. We have been married for almost 30 years and not until these last two or three did we ever discuss politics, and we’ve had a pretty great life. I do NOT want to give up on our marriage, but I feel alone. I asked him about counseling and he flatly refused. How do I proceed with this conversation? HELP!

Signed,
Stuck in Partisan Partnership

Dear Partisan Partnership,

Your question is as personal as they come. And I promise to address that personal, intimate conversation that you ask about. But before I do, I want to cast this question in broader context because it is impossible to read your question outside of what is happening in our country right now.

Political tribalism is tearing our country, our communities, and our families apart. It is beyond heartbreaking. We are retreating to our own camps, surrounding ourselves with like-minded people, listening only to those messages that comfortably reinforce our own beliefs. And, as we do so, we lose any sort of counterbalance and slowly we become the most extreme versions of ourselves.

It seems at times as if we have lost the ability to live among people who think differently than we do.

When opposing opinions and strong emotions are driving us apart, the solution is dialogue. The solution is to share our meaning and listen sincerely and diligently and openly as others share theirs. This is not just about being kind and tolerant. It’s in our interest to hear someone else’s point of view, to value our differences. Research has consistently shown that diverse thinking leads to better outcomes and that conformity leads to worse outcomes. Still, putting this into practice can be hard. So, let me offer three keys for cultivating a healthy relationship with someone who believes differently and two tips for holding the conversation with your husband.

Keys to Loving People Who Believe Differently

Believe that You Can

This tip might seem obvious, but I think some people have moved to such extremes that they no longer believe it is possible to live with and love those who think differently than they do on certain topics. If you want to have a strong relationship with someone, you have to believe that you can.

In order to believe you can love someone you strongly disagree with, you must first realize that you can achieve unity of purpose on some level. For example, review the following statements. Do you think you and your husband would both agree with at least some of these?

  • My goal is to have a strong, healthy, joyous marriage. With you.
  • I believe a Democrat and a Republican can have a strong marriage.
  • I believe that our political beliefs are just one aspect of our identity.
  • I believe there is much more to each of us than our political identities.
  • I love these other aspects of you (list them).

If you can find agreement on these or other similar beliefs, you will have identified some mutual purpose on which you can build.

Set Boundaries

Healthy relationships have boundaries that are maintained by respect for oneself and one’s partner. When you have differences that trigger each other, it’s helpful to set some boundaries. You’ll need to decide what is right for you, but here are some boundaries to consider:

  • Times: For example, “Let’s agree not to talk about politics during dinner.”
  • Topics: “It seems like when we talk about politics, we both end up angry and frustrated. Let’s try not to talk about politics with each other for a week and see what happens.”
  • Process: “I am willing to listen to your views and would like to understand them better. And, when you share your views, please do so in a way that doesn’t disparage or disrespect mine.”

Build Safety

Safety in a conversation comes when I know you care about me as a person and you care about my goals. You know I care about you and your goals.

You can accomplish this first by expressing your care for each other. Telling your partner, out loud, that you care about him or her can help to remind you both of the relationship you have and can help get a conversation back on track.

But while safety can be built during and through a conversation, at other times it is built aside from the conversation. Companionship is about more than conversation. It is also about shared interests. The pandemic restrictions have sharply curtailed many of the activities that people once did together. But they have also forced us to isolate in our homes with our families and roommates. I believe there are things you could enjoy doing with your partner, although they might be activities that are new and different. Find them. Find something other than talking about politics to fill your time.

Talking with Your Husband

Two thoughts more specifically on the conversation you need to have with your husband. I see your conversation as a gap conversation. There is a gap between the marriage you would like and the marriage you have. Note that I said marriage, not husband. It might be easy to say there is a gap between the husband you would like and the husband you have. But that will only lead to blame. Focus instead on the result you want: a happy, healthy marriage with your husband.

The first step in a gap conversation is to describe the gap, to get the other person’s perspective on the gap. “Here is how I see our marriage right now… How do you see it?”

That may be all you need to do in that first conversation. Listen to how he thinks and feels about your marriage. What is working or not working for him. Then, take some time and think about what he said.

Let’s assume that you come to some general agreement—that your marriage is not what it once was and could be better. You probably have very different ideas about what is causing the gap and how to close it. This is the second tip: ask him what he thinks. Ask him whether he has contributed to the gap in your marriage. Then listen.

It will be hard to do this because my guess is that he is like you. It is clear that you think the gap is caused by your husband. By his political beliefs. By the way he spends his time. If he is like you, he’ll think the gap in your marriage is caused by you. In other words, you will both think that the problem has been caused by the other person. Listen carefully and openly has he tells you this. Then, take some time and think about what he said about you. Ask him if he would be open to hearing what you think is causing some of the gap. Remember to create safety by sharing your intent. Why are you talking about this? Because you love him and you want to love being with him.

This is going to be a hard conversation, or series of conversations. But you have something amazing going for you: you have thirty years together.

One of the things we have found in studying relationships is that the health of a relationship is a function of the average lag time between identifying and addressing a problem. There is a definite lag here. Two to three years by your count. This is a relationship to be worried about. But, you can change. He can change. Relationships can get better. It doesn’t happen without work, without effort, and without pain, but you can do this. You can rebuild your marriage a conversation at a time. Go slow. Listen a lot. Process your emotions outside of the conversation, not during the conversation. Take a breath when you need it. Remind yourself of the goodness. Talk again.

Good luck,
Emily

Develop Your Crucial Skills

Image for

What's Your Style Under Stress?

Discover your dialogue strengths and weaknesses with this short assessment.

Take Assessment

Image for

Subscribe Now

Subscribe to the newsletter and get our best insights and tips every Wednesday.

Subscribe

Image for

Ask a Question

From stubborn habits to difficult people to monumental changes, we can help.

Ask a Question

11 thoughts on “Is Politics Hurting Your Marriage? Here’s What You Can Do”

  1. Deborah A.

    Emily, you have addressed such a sensitive topic in a wonderful way. Thank you for your words.

  2. Jeff Keiser

    Good advice, although I am very disappointed that you choose a case study on an angry male Trump supporter, and took the opportunity to bash Fox news. After “Build Safety”, your next sub title is “Talking With Your Husband”, instead of “Talking with Your Spouse”. I’m sure article was based on a real email, but I think you should have done a better job masking your political views for the sake of not turning off half your audience, as well as tarnishing the reputation of Vitalsmarts with your slanted narrative.
    Thanks,
    Jeff

    1. Emily Gregory

      Hi Jeff. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I’d love to address a couple of things in your message and would welcome additional thoughts. First, I didn’t think this was a case study about an angry male Trump supporter. I didn’t actually assume he was angry. Passionate, maybe. But I don’t see anything in the question or in my response that assumes he is angry. Most of the Trump supporters I know aren’t angry.
      Perhaps you and I have a different data stream when it comes to people who support President Trump. Second, I am sorry if my response somehow bashed Fox News. I didn’t intend that. To me, this question and response wasn’t actually about Fox News or President Trump. It was about two people who have differences of opinions, strong ones. I hope we can all engage in dialogue with and relationships with people who see things differently. I do very much appreciate your point about the subtitle “Talking With Your Husband.” It is true–this was a response to a real email inquiry, as all our newsletters are. And I always try to hold the person who has written in my mind when I am responding, to remember that I am writing to a real person with real concerns. In this case, I should have broadened it to say Talking with Your Spouse. Because that was my intent… to help any of us who have to have tough conversations with our spouses.

    2. Jennifer

      I agree completely. In my marriage, it is the other way around. I tend to lean Republican, and my husband Democratic. He says that he feels like he is going to explode if I put Fox News on and immediately walks upstairs. He is being intolerant of my political views and appears to think he is automatically morally superior, which he is not.His attitude is hurting our marriage and leaves me feeling angry and, unfortunately, wanting to distance myself from him.

  3. Jill

    This is a very good article. I especially like the part about setting boundaries, because those types of boundaries are not broad, but very specific. This is not the only publication that advises family members on how to resolve political stand offs within. Those type of articles confirms that there is a bigger issue, that we are on a brink of a civil war. Civil war is brutal since it turns your loved ones against you for the sake of the political beliefs and causes tremendous hardship and pain to the whole nation. I’m frustrated to learn that the democratically oriented wife, who calls herself “Stuck in Partisan Partnership” blames politics and her husband for her marriage issues. As Emily suggests, first the wife should start looking inside herself and accepting other points of views. The scary part is that the wife calls herself “central democrat” only, meanwhile she refuses to understand why her beloved husband is so frustrated. And this is after 30 years of marriage? I don’t think she comprehends that there are 75 millions voting Americans feel the same way as her husband. Until she accepts other points of views and become companionate to her husband feelings, her marriage is a lost case. While this article suggested on how to improve her marriage, it is silent about political differences. The issue here is not the “gap in the marriage” but the gap in accepting other political views. Emily herself needs to start accepting political views of others, before writing articles on how to fix marriage issues, which are originated on political bias. While Emily points process suggestions, none of them would work long term, until the main issue is resolved.

    If we all love America we should be able to find a common ground to unite, but it can’t be a one-way-street. We all should meet in the middle.

  4. Rachel M

    This is a really interesting & well written article. My husband of 40 years & I are in a similar situation. We have tried to treat each other (& each other’s view points) with respect. Some of my hardest conversations are with other family members who can’t understand why I stay with him- I find this a terrible and very narrow view which just further empathizes our country’s growing inability to connect with others who think differently from ourselves.

  5. marci lynn gossett

    My Spouse is this topic exactly with one exception. He is so over the top involved, so passionate, he gets mad at me for not supporting him because, “he “knows” what he thinks or says to be the “truth.” I am a nurse. I am on the side of science. He bombards me with everything from Cloning, Actors drinking baby blood, Covid testing swabs are going to give people cancer, and on and on and on. It literally is exhausting for me. I am at a point where I feel like he is going crazy. He told complete strangers who were walking their daughters puppy to “be prepared to have to eat that puppy when the world goes to shit and there is no food on the shelves and you are fighting just to stay alive.” WTH? Seriously? I was mortified. Shit like this happens all the time. I want to disappear and not be associated with his craziness. He thinks I am a sheep and I think he is losing his mind. I am beyond frustrated. He sees no good in the world and keeps up the delusions going by falling prey to videos, facebook, and the news (if you can call it news). I am at a loss. I love him but I have a job where he represents me in our town when he is out and about. It is starting to get back to me the things he says or does (like confronting people while they are eating because they “look like democrats”. Starts confrontations with random people. I am seriously at a loss. Oh, and the FBI came to our place to talk to him about the things he says on Facebook. He thought it was completely normal. Needless to say I am beyond frustrated.

  6. Andrew Hoffman

    Dear Emily, Unfortunately I to have been saddened and lost by my wife’s immersion into politics. I am a family therapist and despite my knowledge and experience have become despondent by this dark chapter of our marriage. I’m also embarrassed as a therapist I can’t seem to get out of this rut. She feels empowered by broadcasting her messages ( rage and fear ) via FB and instagram based on the daily news or podcasts or multiple groups she follows. My family (kids, siblings, relatives) and friends are politely looking the other way but will sometimes leak to me their bewilderment. My wife and I agreed not to talk politics and that has helped. It’s not that I don’t necessarily disagree with her perspectives, but it’s more about her rage and frantic eruptions which she says comes from fear that leave me emotionally exhausted. I just bought a third home in a state she feels more comfortable which I really had no interest in doing so personally. She has a charmed life and yet projects misery rage and fear. I suggested she try counseling and I attended several sessions with her. She felt ganged up and I backed off. I hate the effect of what social media and politically motivated podcasts have had on my wife. Sadly, AH

  7. Anonymous

    I hate my marriage now since Trump came o the scene and my husband retired he eat sleeps and breaths conservative politics. I get out of the house as much as possible, try to eat as few a meals with him and live In the bedroom away from him and the tv. I am living a nightmare. I did not sign up for this and really can’t take much more.

    1. McKay

      This is exactly how I feel. My wife listens to conservative talk radio all day (with headphones) and we barely speak anymore during the week. If I try any kind of political conversation, she gets angry and belligerent. She is better on weekends when the radio shows aren’t broadcasting. She said she has always been conservative and that’s news to me. She never gave any inclination when we met and even through the years. If she has been hiding this all along, I feel totally lied to. I wish she would have been honest with me. I love her but I am not sure I can spend the rest of my life this way.

  8. LMFT

    I’ve been living with a very reactive conservative wife and have come to detest social media, the podcasts, and of course Tucker and co. However I also can’t stand the catastrophizing by CNN. I’m more of a moderate and can see valid points from both parties but what is so challenging in the marriage is the degree of reactivity by my wife. I find the best resolve is setting up boundaries that we both … try… to respect. Fox goes off when I come in from work and I won’t turn on NBC. We don’t bring up political topics unless we are somewhat aligned. When going out with friends we announce early that it would be best to have a political free evening. Regardless, my marriage has taken a hit and we try to talk it out and refocus … redirect dangerous conversations. In the end hopefully the marriage connection is agreed to be more of a priority than our sad political state of affairs.

Leave a Reply

Get your copies
The ideas and insights expressed on Crucial Skills hail from five New York Times bestsellers.
Buy

Newsletter

Take advantage of our free, award-winning newsletter—delivered straight to your inbox