Q: I feel like I am a casualty of the election. Barack Obama may have yet another war or disaster to solve. My husband and I have been arguing since November 4th and we are almost incapable of speaking at the moment.
We have been married for thirty-five years. We have two children and three grandchildren. Our marriage has been what I would consider a normal one. We met in college and settled in Wisconsin after school. My husband worked his way up in the same manufacturing company that he began working in over thirty years ago, and we raised a family. Our children live in opposite ends of the country. We barely see them. We had interests. We played tennis. We enjoyed our church life. Nothing thrilling. But nothing terrible, either.
My husband and I have usually agreed on almost everything. But this election has certainly brought out our differences. In college, like many college kids at the time, we were activists. We believed in freedom and equality. Of course we were against the Vietnam War and we both thought women should have sexual freedom. In fact, we had so much sexual freedom that I walked down the aisle pregnant.
As our responsibilities grew, so did our pragmatic shift to more conservative views. We didn't compromise our ideals, but we believed in accountability, individual freedom from government, and the ability to grow a nest egg and provide for our children by not having onerous taxes.
This election though I felt was a bit different. Almost all of our church friends were for John McCain. Not me. I wondered about Obama's ability to deal with the current financial crisis, but I was impressed with his ability to draw in diverse groups of people, to bring them hope, and to excite the world. I wanted very much to be a part of the movement that Obama was creating and I wanted to feel the pride that electing a black president would bring me and the country. My husband seemed to understand all that, but he felt even stronger that I was abandoning the moderately conservative ideals he and I had shared for so long.
When Obama won, I was overwhelmed. I watched his speech and I was in tears. For days I was glued to the television as I watched the euphoria that swept the country.
My husband on the other hand, was glued to the financial cable stations. His cursing of Obama kept growing as the market kept declining. It is almost as if he blamed the election of Obama for the decline of the stock market. I tried to remind him that the market was declining under a conservative Republican president, not a liberal president-elect. His response is that I am "stupid"--his exact word. I tell him he is a completely "insensitive boor"--my exact words. I don't know anymore what happened to the man I met at a campus protest for equal rights. We are on the verge of separating.
Have any other couples found themselves in such a predicament?
A: Yes! Many couples have found themselves in your situation. But other couples have had the similar problems - and not because of politics or an elections. Your marital woes do not sound like they are product of the election. They sound more like they are a product of a marriage gone stale - just a plain old mid-life crisis for you both. I think you guys just didn't have the courage to face your boredom head-on when your kids first left the house. It took the election to bring you back to the days when you had enthusiasm for political causes. It took the election for you to remember that you once found life exciting.
You're not the only couple to disagree about politics. Political TV commentators James Carville and Mary Matalin come to mind. Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, could never count on his wife's support during elections - not even her vote. Couples can agree to disagree. This is especially the case when their actual political beliefs are less important than the respect they have for each other -the soundness of their views, their enthusiasm, their commitment. That sort of relationship may be based on a healthy dose of humor or they may find other pursuits as central to their life Family, hobbies, religion, life-style, and philanthropy are a few of the other interests that couples may find helpful to developing a strong, healthy relationship.
But you and your husband didn't seem to have any of that. Your description of your marriage is noteworthy for what seems to be lacking: joy, laughter, or pleasure. In fact, I found it interesting that your children moved far away and that you don't rush to see them or your grandchildren. I suspect that your household was always a joyless one. That doesn't mean you were not good parents. You took care of your kids, provided for them and did not shirk your parental roles. In fact, I think you so acutely felt a sense of personal accountability that even when the kids gave you the freedom to move on, you still stayed stuck in the old rhythms and the old identity.
I am not sure if your husband finds himself itching to experience some new paths and some new identities. But you sure are - dropping clues all over the place. You're hardly involved in your children's lives. You're hardly involved with your grandchildren, either. You did not mention anything that has real meaning in your life. You just noted some "interests" - a little tennis. You did not mention cherished friendships. Little wonder then that Obama's message of "Change" resonated so strongly for you. And little wonder, too, that your husband -sensing your desire for change - so resents the president elect.
Sitting before the TV, watching the country embrace "Change" brought you to tears. The country is moving in a new direction. All you need is the same courage to do the same. It's time for you to move on and find your new identity.