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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

You can learn more insights and skills like this in Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue

29 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.

      1. Peggy Lou (@Peggylou46)

        Why do you need FOX News on if you know how much it triggers him? My husband knows that I despise FOX News and he likes it. So he will turn it off if I come into the room. We seem to have a consensus of no cable news (except BBC) when the other is in the room. I like CNN and MSNBC, but don’t need to watch them in the house when he is home.

        1. Kay

          Way to go Peggy Lou

    3. Robert J RODRIGUEZ

      Great response. My wife has always been iffy and left leaning and it has never been a problem until Trump. Now she is as crazy left as can be, and everything revolves around how Republicans ruin the country and so on. I was raised right and have changed my beliefs on a few things, but gun rights I will never fold on. I was raised in Uvalde Tx. There is the role reverse of this article and I am genuinely concerned of her mental well being. She post constantly on Instagram, just dunking on everything Republicans do. I’ve confronted her a few times but yesterday I let her have it in the comments, only because she supported gun control. I lost my cool as she did and I went to work. The whole time an Ar15 and ak47 within 10 feet of where she sleeps, now is the problem. I’ve been shoot at a few times so protection is why. She never hesitant to bring up the fact we where on food stamps and abused hard drugs at the same time, not realizing the point. I swear. Apologies for being all over the place. I just want my friend back, my best friend.

  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.

    1. Andrew

      I am in a similar situation and our marriage has been tested more than ever. I has taken a lot of patience from both of us and an ability to be able to “switch the station / conversation” in our dialogue when the temperature starts to escalate. The news just stays off when either one of us is in the room. If I get triggered when my wife’s conservative friends come over … I leave the room. This was my FB post yesterday and I got many responses:

      WE ARE IN A POLITICAL AND HUMANITARIAN CRISIS.
      I believe we need to stop trying to defend our political positions by denigrating other perspectives. Many times the phrases we use are defined different depending on who is using them. We need to read and listen to different papers and new stations then what we typically do. News reported by social media, podcasts, news stations and articles either don’t always report all the facts correctly or are biased by their position, or financial benefit. We need to prioritize our issues … take care of our earth … our home, and protect the safety of our people. We have to be brave enough to break away from our party and find a new language. IF WE DON’T START TRYING TO COLLABORATE AND COMPROMISE WE WILL JUST CONTINUE TO DISCONNECT AND RAGE AGAINST EACH OTHER. Our politicians have to meet each other across the aisle as much as we need to communicate with our neighbors across our fences.

  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.

    2. Big Daddy

      I both respect and am saddened by these personal anecdotes. I am respectful for all sharing their personal situations. And saddened that the country I was born and raised and love has become so divided the way it has.

      I am in a similar situation as McKay (not sure if you will be below or above this post) in my personal life with my wife, except she has never had interest in politics until more recently in our 15 yr relationship and has only become more inflamed since 2016. I now feel she has become more extreme and sources most of her information through social media and like-minded family and friends. I try to be as open- minded as possible but also have my political biases.

      However, I have not wavered from my political sympathies since the time we met, and she, initially, was very apolitical. But this has changed on a steady trajectory over the post 8 years or so. We have tried to understand each other’s views/perceptions/rationale on a number of occasions, but would typically devolve into and intense argument. I eventually decided that it would be best if we do not talk about politics at all, which she agreed, and has been much better.

      I do still very much struggle when I am with her family and I hear their ongoing grievances, which I find utterly baseless or misinformed. I stay to myself instead of inciting a potential argument, but it is still very tough for me to hear as I think the vast majority of their thoughts are bonkers. What I struggle with the most is that I have married and love someone who has such differing thoughts on issues that I consider so morally different than I feel and for a very long time she did as well.

      I get really frustrated and stressed at times, especially when I see something so outrageous in politics and how she can align or easily dismiss. It hurts me that it makes me feel as if we are seemingly so un-alike regarding certain values and comments associated with the ongoing political rhetoric.

      I thought I would share my personal experience as well here. It has been a personal struggle for me and I try and move on from it when the negative feelings pop into my consciousness, but I find this rather difficult at times and it’s difficult for me as I start to feel as if I do not know her anymore.

      Thank you all for sharing your stories and know that you’re not alone in these divided times. I’m hoping 🙏 that once we move on from these two old guys (45th & 46th prezs) that we can have a sort of reset and be able to unite instead of divided.

      Sincerely,
      BD

      1. Valetta Shuppe

        Same here BD. I’m even thinking of moving away when I retire it’s so bad. We been together since 2003 and it is the same also as with you, it didn’t start until Trump came on the scene. It probably wouldn’t be this way if I didn’t have a lifelong interest and a graduate degree in American history. My husband thinks that only Republicans love this country and need to save it from the rest of us. He doesn’t get it that I went into that field because I too, love my country.

        I just can’t stand the rhetoric, FOX News, the Facebook posts, and everything else. People think from his Facebook posts and profile that I’m also MAGA, which creates quite a scene when they find out otherwise and decide to rip on me. He doesn’t defend me either (Of course, with my education and knowledge, I don’t need defending). It’s just not what I wanted to be doing or feeling when we retired and the situation is only getting worse. I don’t think I matter anymore. Just his politics.

    3. Valetta Shuppe

      Same here. Matters are worse because I have a graduate degree (Two actually), in American history & have studied political science. Way back in 2003 when we met, he thought it was cool to be with such a smart, educated woman who knew her way around American history and the Constitution. It didn’t matter to him that I was a Democrat (Actually, I’m pretty much a staunch Moderate) or that he was a very Conservative Republican. We didn’t even discuss politics then. It didn’t really matter because there weren’t any severe issues with the people in our government because they behaved like and I think, were decent people.

      Now, with Trump and his MAGA groupies, my husband has become this extremist MAGA minion even to the point of flying our flag upside down. (No. That’s not how it’s supposed to fly I told him this morning and said I will take it down if he does that again). He doesn’t understand that I want nothing to do with this type of rhetoric and behavior of hating people simply because of their political affiliation and especially with this “in your face” conversation style he seems to adopted. He was never like that for most of our time together.

      We live in different parts of the house now, and I rarely talk to him anymore because only conspiracy theories and “fake news” comes out of his mouth. He calls all college educated people “Brainwashed ignorant liberals.” I’ve called him on that one because I’m college educated, but he always says that he didn’t mean me specifically. I don’t go out to eat with him and his family (They’re all MAGA’s too), I don’t go on vacation with him and don’t want him going with me because it always comes down to some derogatory remark about Democrats or blacks or someone else who doen’t fit his MAGA mindset. It’s just not what I had planned for our years of retirement together.

      I’m really seriously thinking of moving far away when I retire in two years. I don’t like my life with him right now and it seems a shame to throw away this many years, but he is not the person I fell in love with and the distance is only increasing.

      1. Ginger

        I have posted before on this but seeing new posts I wanted to comment. I see a lot of comments saying that we just don’t talk about politics anymore. That is what my husband and I agreed to. But it makes me feel lonely. We can’t discuss current events. Even things that are politics adjacent can’t be discussed. That has gotten us through the last 8 years. But with the election heating up, the silence will feel deafining.

        I have also been trying to define what his red lines are. This was what was unnerving in the beginning – moral lines that kept getting crossed and instead of it causing Trump to lose my husband’s support, he just decided that that didn’t matter anymore. So what are his lines this time? Leaving NATO? Aligning with Putin? Will he support mass detention camps? Will he support seperating babies from their mothers at the border again?

        I want to think that politics shouldn’t end a marriage but how do you live with someone who is ok with things that are contrary to your own moral code? Should it just not matter?

  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.

  9. Ginger

    What is so hard is that there are moral quandaries involved not just policy issues. And because politics leads to arguments we can never get to what our basic morals are. I thought I knew what his morals were when I married him, but after Trump I don’t know what they are anymore. It is startling how things I would have thought would be a red line for him isn’t. I want to understand what his line is. Or does it just change based on whatever the right wing says is ok? Would he be ok if the Democrats did the same thing.

  10. Ed

    Hi Emily, great article, and it applies not only to American politics. It is everywhere in the world. My wife became a radical leftist. Myself I am “radical” moderate. I don’t lean to any side of these polarized political views. They cause much more harm than good. She doesn’t speak with some members of my family anymore. She doesn’t listen and she is willing to vote and support a notorious corrupt politician, Lula in Brazil, just to fight the far-right candidate. She told me she is ashamed to let her friends know that I will not support her extremist choices. I still love her, we had a great, but painful talk like you suggested. We understand each other better, but her radical views are still there. I feel they are taking a pause for the next crisis. I don’t know what to do.

  11. Jen

    Stuck in Partisan Partnership.

    I am living in the same world as you. My husband and I do tend to believe in the same politics. But the talk of politics and the negativity is driving me crazy. He is losing himself in a world of negativity. Everything he watches on TV or phone has to do with politics or how terrible people are now a days. Believe me I see it, I believe it but he’s consumed with it. I go to my bedroom and let him have the living room. He will even listen to music that talks politics. I seriously feel for you. And don’t go where he can talk politics to anyone else. That’s a real bad one. Even if they both agree on the subject he gets overheated. We also have been married for 28 yrs. Near enough to 30 and I hope we’ll be able to make it to 30. Him and I have been together for 35 yrs and married 28 of those yrs. I just wanted to tell you that your not alone, good luck and god bless.

    1. GG

      Your story is what I am also living. My husband and I both hold the same views but his have become so extreme it is difficult to hold political conversations. It has come to the point of me diverting conversations for I know it will get heated and he will disregard my responses. Our marriage is definitely stressed since politics plays a bigger role these past several years. I hope we survive this.

  12. Lizzie.Smiley

    SO HELPFUL…….HAPPY TO HAVE MY EX- BACK, THANKS DR_M A CK…………………YAHOO .COM

  13. Jilly

    Hi

  14. Jilly

    Hi Emily,
    Recognizing that this is an old post, I still wanted to offer some input since I find myself in a similar situation. My fiancé is conservative and a total fan of Donald Trump. We are both Christians and are aligned on most things but we part ways when it comes to Donald Trump. He frequently brings politics into our relationship and although I did tell him that I am not at all political, he corners me often about how I can reconcile being a Christian and being a Democrat since he feels that Democrats support a more liberal lifestyle. I do love him but I am more focused on having a loving relationship vs bringing politics into our relationship. He complies with my boundaries for a while, then falls back into his old routine of badgering me. I am to the point of questioning whether we can be successfully married, so I’m taking a time out to pray about this situation. I think it is pretty sad to let politics ruin a loving relationship.

  15. mf

    same sitch. my fiancée only watches stuff on her phone that supports her views, whatever they may be. im not getting into that nonsense. she gets enraged when she feels she is right and refuses to listen or consider any other views. it’s bordeline insanity. adults are supposed to be able to talk without becoming emotional children but it is what happens. we were talking last night about the price of everything in the US is out of control and she immediately took a point of view that was political and became enraged immediately.
    only listening to one side of something, especially when it is ONLY what you believe to be true is poisoning people and destroying the world . . .

  16. Corey Christensen

    Sounds like the wife has a case of Trump Derangement Syndrome and is projecting her own political intolerance on to him. If I were him I would leave her for someone sane.

  17. Sue

    The original post is from 2021, the most recent responses are from last week, so it’s an ongoing problem. Is it Donald Trump himself that creates this? I don’t remember a time in politics when it was this heated. I thought we had made progress but it was another bad explosive scene tonight. He sucks in everything Trump says, I’m a lifelong Democrat. I’ll never understand trump’s appeal to anyone let alone my husband.

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