One thing we have learned over the past two weeks, post-election, is that our country remains deeply divided. Hillary won the popular vote but Trump won the Electoral College and became the new U.S. President-Elect. Liberal and conservative posts and memes are dominating most people's Facebook and Twitter feeds. People are freaked out, and both peaceful and sometimes violent protests have broken out in many cities including where I live in Southern California. I have never seen so many people upset over an election.
Given this divide, it is inevitable that some romantic relationships may be suffering. While it is not new for couples to have to deal with a difference of political opinions (after all, James Carville and Mary Matlin are still married after nearly 23 years), this election brings the differences into much starker contrast and has the potential for emotional rifts in a marriage or long-term relationship.
For example, my friend recounted an election-night story that is somewhat typical of Republican-Democrat relationships. Her friend (let's call her Sarah) was upset watching the poor returns for Hillary and in her anger declared that her husband (a Trump supporter who obviously wasn't at the Hillary party) wasn't going to get dinner "or anything else for awhile."
But seriously...is Sarah or anyone for that matter, really going to hold out having sex for the next four years? Probably not. However for many people, the thought of having an open political dialogue with their Trump-supporting spouse may cause them more pain and drama than they want.
So what is a rational and loving person to do? How can you get back to having a productive relationship when you are still angry about the election?
Here are a few strategies.
1. Make a pact not to discuss politics
This seems to be what works for most politically divided couples. But during a time when the entire media is abuzz with Trump stories, will you really be able to avoid the conversation in your relationship? Some couples may be able to keep this rule, others might not. (Indeed, even families are going to have a hard time this Thanksgiving.)
You have to ask yourself whether you can really go four whole years without talking about Trump. If it seems impossible given the media coverage of Trump's upcoming transition and presidency, then move on to strategy number 2.
2. Simply agree to disagree
It's important to respect each other's opinion. Come to an understanding with your partner that you will love and support them no matter what their views are. If you are a Hillary supporter and still hurting, scared and worried about the outcome of the election and the prospect of a Trump administration, then share those fears with your partner and ask that they listen to you. On the other hand, if your Trump-supporting spouse is feeling happy or elated about the upcoming administration, you must be open to allowing him/her to share those feelings as well.
Susan Heiler, Ph.D. reminds us in an article in Psychology Today that if we can express our feelings safely, we may feel more connected to those close to us. She explains that "knowing how to express feelings tactfully therefore is vital if you want to feel close to people and be able to sustain your intimate relationships."
On that note, despite the difficult emotions, this post-election season may be a good time to practice open communication.
3. Listen, really listen
Finally, even if you disagree and you do choose to debate the issue, it is vital that you listen to your partner so he or she feels valued. Listening is an important skill in any relationship, but is most important in your relationship with your spouse or significant other. And as I often tell my clients and readers, don't talk over each other! You would be surprised how effective simply listening to your partner can be in easing tensions.
Sometimes being a good listener can depend on timing and your moods. If you start a conversation about politics and it gets a little too heated, one idea is to call for a time out and request a different time to discuss it. That way, you can choose a time when your emotions have calmed and you are more open to listening.
In conclusion, my best advice is...don't protest in the bedroom. Ease into an understanding of each person's views by actively listening to one another. It might be rocky for a while and you may end up agreeing to disagree, but ultimately, your relationship should be the thing in your life that brings you security and joy.
If you can do that, you can find a way for your relationship to survive the next four years.