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The Art Of Sleeping With The Enemy

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MARRIAGE AND POLITICS
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I have good friends. Call them Ed and Paula. They are in a mixed marriage: she's a Republican, he's a Democrat. Both take their respective affiliations seriously.

They've always made their union of political opposites work. But this season, there is coolness in the political air. They find themselves avoiding dangerous territory.

"It's funny," Paula told me. It's just harder to talk about things in this race."

Maybe they just reflect the country as a whole -- the feeling that it's a zero-sum game. From the left: Republicans are for the rich, and against just about everybody else. From the right: Obama will preside over America's financial ruin.

Both those positions have likely been hardened by the current climate of Congressional polarization: "I'm OK. You're the anti-Christ."

Evidence of a hardening of positions is visible in a paper published in Public Opinion Quarterly. Stanford University professor Shanto Iyengar points to a 1960s study that found 5 percent of couples would be upset if their child married outside their political party. A study in 2010 put that figure at 40 percent. For the record, Republicans would be more upset -- 50 percent to 30 percent.

How do couples cope? There are some visible examples that say it can work.

Mary Matalin and James Carville have not only crafted a 20 year marriage out of political opposition, they've turned it into a lucrative traveling show. The current odd couple is vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan and his wife, Janna. He: impeccable Republican credentials. She: from a prominent Democratic family and a former high-profile D.C. lobbyist.

Mrs. Ryan was described by friends in a recent New York Times article as a liberal- leaning Democrat turned political conservative -- with some reader posts calling her apparent conversion nothing less than an ideological betrayal. Ah -- the things we do for love.

We might assume that the political issue would be addressed at the beginning -- during dating. Political opposites would be eliminated the way a PETA member would write off a dove hunter.

The much-quoted Match.com survey, "Singles in America", says: not necessarily. Only 17 percent of men and 20 percent of women said that someone of the same party was a "must have." Compare that to 65 percent who said they must have respect, trust and the ability to confide in each other.

Overall, 57 percent of singles said they would marry someone with dramatically different political beliefs. That seems to make it more of a consideration than a deal breaker -- perhaps on the order of your significant other's position on reality shows.

Surveys do find one interesting political difference. Conservative Republicans are more likely to want someone who shares their values. But they are more likely than Democrats to cross party lines to find romance -- something James Carville attributes to the fact that "Democrats are hotter."

When dating progresses to marriage, there is research evidence that opinions tend to blend over time. Husbands used to dominate the shift. More recent surveys show a more mutual convergence.

Still, there are limits. Our political persuasion is a potent combination of genetics, family and where we grew up. The Match.com survey found that almost half hadn't changed a political view in the last ten years; and almost 95 percent had never changed a political belief because of a relationship.

The majority who are willing to cross party lines for love must also confront a fact of 21st century life. In everything from choice of TV news to favorite Internet sites to living in a red or blue state, it's very easy to insulate ourselves from all opinions that are contrary to our own. That hermetic seal is harder to maintain within the walls of a two-party home.

There are some common sense considerations for peaceful co-existence.

First: don't try to the win the argument. You won't, and it will never end. Agree to accept -- even celebrate -- your perpetual state of counter opinions. Don't plaster the refrigerator with the latest win for your side or setback for the other. Don't inject politics into family issues: neither Democrats nor Republicans are to blame for a tight budget or rocky relationship. Never try to win the kids to your side. One more: if your spouse puts a campaign sign on the lawn, don't steal it in the middle of the night.

The most important thing in an age when we tend to argue positions with fingers stuck in both ears is, simply, take them out. Listen. Somewhere in the opinions from the supposed dark side there may be an idea or two to consider. That one is as useful on the other side of the aisle, as it is from the other side of the bed.

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