Politics, Disagreement, and Relationship Damage


How do you manage disagreement in your marriage?

I didn’t expect to write about politics or the election here. After all, I write about marriage.

My heart has been heavy as I’ve watched people’s reactions to this week’s election. Disagreement is damaging relationships—and relationship damage has a whole lot to do with marriage.

So I’m going there, into the arena of politics. Sort of.

Divisiveness does damage

My Facebook friends range from one political extreme to the other. My family, in-laws, friends, and colleagues run the gamut. While most people on my feed are staying quiet or posting things that encourage kindness and positive action, some are posting hateful words that assume that disagreement is a sign of ignorance or lack of character.

People on both sides are ranting, complaining, and judging. I’ve seen posts that say, “If you voted for [fill in the blank with the name of any candidate], just unfriend me now.” I am watching people unfriend parents, siblings, and long-time friends. I’ve seen more than one vicious exchange between spouses. Too many are dismissing the feelings of others. Some folks are changing holiday plans so they don’t have to see family members who don’t agree with them.

Relationships are disintegrating right before my eyes. While I understand the depth of emotions involved, I struggle to understand the hate and the attacks I am seeing.

On both sides, this election has tapped into deep issues regarding identity and voicelessness. Many people feel attacked. Sometimes they lash out.

So many are hurting right now. I’ve experienced my own share of it.

But . . .

Even in our hurt, we can choose to seek unity and connection with each other.Even in our hurt, we can choose to seek unity and connection with each other. Click To Tweet

It IS possible to disagree without being disagreeable. After all, my husband and I live in political disagreement every single day.

We have a politically mixed marriage. One of us grew up in a very conservative family and the other in a very liberal family. We are both more moderate than our families of origin—but neither of us has moved from one side to the other.

How we make it work

You can imagine how interesting election season is around our house. We rarely vote for the same candidate, which means that each election leaves one of us disappointed and the other happy (or at least relieved). The one notable exception was in 1994, when we voted for the same congressional representative because we knew his mom and liked him.

It isn’t easy. We know there will be disagreement about certain kinds of issues. Some conversations are hard. We both feel strongly about some issues, and we’ve had many heated discussions.

While some issues and some years have been challenging, we still love and respect each other even when we disagree.

In the 25 years we’ve been married, we’ve developed and refined some guidelines that help us keep our political disagreement from damaging our relationship:

  • We are respectful in how we discuss candidates and supporters, choosing kindness over the rhetoric our emotions may prefer. No one gets called anything like liar, criminal, loony, idiot, cheater, or other negative labels. We talk about people’s words and actions without maligning their character.
  • When one of us gets too caught up in a particular issue, it is okay for the other one to point it out. If a conversation gets too heated, we agree to table it for a while.
  • Yard signs and bumper stickers? Nope.
  • We encourage each other to volunteer for organizations and causes that matter (as long as it doesn’t interfere with our marriage or family life). Big Guy used to spend time canvassing and marching in parades. I’ve served at the registration desk at a state convention.
  • Donations must be discussed before being given. If one of us makes a donation to a political party or cause, the other one can make a donation in the same amount to that person’s preferred organization.
  • We choose to believe that the other person’s view is not a personal attack on us.
  • When one of us makes a political post on Facebook, the other one doesn’t comment. If one of us is offended by the other’s post or image, the other will edit or remove that post. I’m not talking about disagreeing with the opinions but about being offended by the wording or by deeper messages conveyed by something that is posted.
  • We don’t initiate political conversations with each other’s families. When our in-laws try to engage us in such conversations, we answer specific questions but try to not further the conversation.
  • We respect each other’s disappointment in election results. When Big Guy’s preferred candidate loses, I make him the meatloaf and mashed potatoes that he loves. When my candidate loses, I get pizza delivery and flowers.

These guidelines assume that we both are good-willed and intelligent. They encourage the free expression of our individual views within a framework of kindness. They allow us to do things that matter to us. They promote fairness and respect.

Our guidelines are founded on one important principle:

Our marriage matters more than our politics.

Our guidelines are founded on one important principle: Our marriage matters more than our politics. Click To Tweet

My husband and I are happily married despite our vast political differences because we are able to respect each other, listen, and be loving to each other.

What does this mean for your marriage?

Although you and your husband are one flesh, you are not the same person. You don’t have the same opinions on everything.

How do you manage disagreement in your marriage?

Although Big Guy and I have successfully managed our disagreement about politics, we haven’t always done so well when it comes to other issues. Over the years, we’ve had many times when differing opinions could have caused great damage to our relationship.

Fortunately, as our marriage has grown stronger, we’ve both made greater effort to value our marriage more than our opinions.

Our guidelines for political disagreement have turned out to be helpful in managing disagreement in other areas of our marriage. We assume that we are both good-willed and intelligent. We don’t view the disagreement as a personal attack. We have a framework of kindness, fairness, and respect.

Our marriage matters more than our disagreement.

When you and your husband disagree, how do you handle it in a way that doesn’t damage your relationship? What do you do to remember that your marriage matters more than your disagreement?

A disagreement can damage a relationship if we let it. Instead, we can choose to see it as an opportunity to let God’s light and love shine through us.

As you encounter disagreements in your marriage (and in other relationships in your life), be kind. Be loving. Let the person matter more than your opinions. Let your relationship matter more than your disagreement.

In your disagreement, show love and grace, not hate and ugliness.

Rise above division. Seek unity and connection.

Be salt.

Be light.

Be a blessing.

After the election...

Read what other marriage bloggers have written about the election:

How do you manage disagreement in your marriage?

Candle image courtesy of 9comeback at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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7 Comments on “Politics, Disagreement, and Relationship Damage”

  1. Spock and I often disagree on politics; we find that we share similar values and goals, but we have different ideas on how to get there. We have voted for the same presidential candidate a few times, but more often than not we cast different votes. I respect that we simply view the choices differently.

    Our discussions can be a bit heated at times when one of us feels particularly passionate, but that’s when we’ve learned to speak up and say something like, “This is just getting us upset, and we value each other more than this issue.” As you say, our marriage matters more than our disagreement…or our politics.

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