Now that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are officially nominated and the conventions are behind us, the stage is set for what I'm sure will be a wild, no holds-barred, drop down and punch them out type of race to the end for the presidency. The press will capitalize on every opportunity they get to make Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton look bad (depending on which media outlet you pay attention to). Stories will be sensationalized and water cooler and dinner table conversations will be filled with all things politics. And for some of these at home conversations, they can be volatile, contentious, and maybe even verge on breaking up a relationship. I've actually had a few fighting couples see me, who in their defense or attack of a candidate, almost parted for good.
In my personal life I've been met with outrage at the mere expression of how I feel about one candidate or the other and my commentary of the political circus. This got me thinking. Just how should couples deal with opposing views in their relationship? How can two loving people have such dissimilar views and continue to coexist and not let the 2016 election tear them apart? The truth is, if the relationship is stable and loving and the couple problem solves well together, it will survive and withstand any tension or strain it may encounter. If though problems already exist, then that's a different story. They're vulnerable and could be subject to insurmountable troubles or even splitting up.
Here's how to keep your political differences from causing problems in your relationship:
1. Aim to share your ideas, not change your partner's mind. As is the case with a lot of discussions about hot-button issues, in relationships it should be one about sharing your opinion and deepening your understanding and connection, not trying to get your partner to buy into your beliefs.
2. Listen. Be a good listener and truly make an effort to understand how your partner came to feel a certain way about a candidate. Sometimes being heard is all that's needed to prevent a discussion from turning acrimonious. Clarify what the other person says and how they feel by repeating back to them your summation or their comments and/or asking them questions that will ensure better understanding.
3. Forget about trying to win. It's not about keeping score, winning the argument, or making the other person look bad. If you approach your partner with that mindset then it will surely come with hostility and be met with defensiveness. Any name calling or demonizing your partner and reliance on sensationalized clips or propaganda will only fuel the tension between you and them and compromise the otherwise healthy dynamic that exist. Rather than trying to find holes in their argument or seeing him or her as an antagonist, be respectful and sensitive.
4. Keep your emotions in check. If you feel things starting to get heated, then agree with your partner to some ground rules. For example, agree to take a time out. Go for a walk, have a bite to eat, or do something else and then hit the reset button.
5. Ask yourself, "What's really important?" All too often if a couple gets embroiled in political conversation they lose sight of what's truly important. Things such as family, kids, and careers take a back seat to an elected official. Stay true to what really matters.
6. Focus on what binds you. Despite their vast differences in style and presentation, ultimately Hillary and Donald want the same things: peace, a strong economy, good educational system, security, etc. Try to focus on these larger items and concepts and where you might actually want similar things for the country.
7. Choose a time to discuss. Knowing that such a discussion might be emotional, generate some stark differences, and inflame tensions, choose a time to discuss that's appropriate. For example, when you have down time and aren't on your way to work or getting ready for bed.
So if after employing these tips you're still having problems then consider that perhaps the differences are simply too stark to have a healthy relationship. Next time you meet someone to potentially date, discuss the very things that you might otherwise avoid early on: political views, religion, and sex. As a psychotherapist who has treated countless couples, I say talk about the very things you'd ordinarily avoid, including which political party you feel an allegiance to, and why.
For more tips on how to handle challenging situations check out my book Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days.