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Binders Full of Divorce Clients? How To Election-Proof Your Marriage

With the 2012 presidential race now reaching a fever pitch, it may sound like political opposites Donna and Frank don't have much in common. But as it turns out they do, and it's something major: Donna and Frank have been happily married for almost 50 years.
10/27/2012 01:48pm ET | Updated December 27, 2012
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Angry African American Couple

Donna believes in universal healthcare. Frank thinks a single-payer system is akin to communism. Donna wants to give automatic visas to undocumented workers already living in the U.S. and Frank wants to crack down on illegal immigrants in order to protect American jobs. Donna believes increased government spending on things like education and green energy are wise investments for the future. Frank thinks the future is sunk unless the government makes deep spending and tax cuts.

With the 2012 presidential race now reaching a fever pitch, it may sound like political opposites Donna and Frank don't have much in common. But as it turns out they do, and it's something major: Donna and Frank have been happily married for almost 50 years.

Right up there with disagreements over money and religion, clashing views about politics can often be a trigger for some pretty deep marital divides. So how do couples like Donna and Frank not end up at each other's throats every four years, or worse yet, wind up in divorce court due to their differences? If you and your spouse won't be pulling the same lever on November 6, consider five time-tested secrets to election-proof a marriage:

Put Your Partner Before Your Political Views: Successful marriages are based on mutual love and respect. You may not agree with the political beliefs held by your spouse, but if you respect the fact that your partner cares enough to hold such strong opinions, you will probably be just fine.

Showing respect can translate into listening without interrupting, and not attempting to change your spouse's opinions. As with any argument, political discussions that end up in disagreement still come down to the simple principle: you can't control other people, you can only control yourself and your reactions to things. Therefore, if you disagree with your partner's take on the latest debate, give your spouse room to state his or her opinions, speak your mind by stating your own views. And then be willing to let it go. One good rule of thumb: You don't always have to have the last word, especially if it means your spouse ends up feeling disrespected.

Set up Ground Rules: If you both love to watch the Sunday morning news shows, take a minute to come up with some creative rules to keep your own political commentary from turning ugly. Some couples set a specific amount of time to discuss politics, say 20 minutes or so (set your watch!). Couples may also agree not to discuss politics over dinner -- and never, ever before bedtime. Other fun-to-follow rules include ending every political debate with a handshake, just like pros.

It should go without saying, but heated political debates are not an excuse to go on the attack against each other. Among your rules? No name calling or personal attacks, including "You are so stupid for thinking that," "You are a sheep like the rest of them," or "Wow, you really drank the Kool-Aid." These are needlessly personal, and really aren't about the issues. If you start using this kind of language, it will probably result in marital discord that extends long past election day.

Find another debate partner: There's a reason why politically-themed articles here on the Huffington Post often garner thousands of comments, and plenty of give-and-take: it's a safe, contained place to really go at it with opponents and allies of every stripe. Yes, there are still ground rules in web communities like HuffPost (there's no name calling here, either!). But if you follow community guidelines, you are free to state your opinion, mix it up with those on the other side of the issue, and hopefully engage in some really fruitful political debate. If you get that debate critique out of your system here, no one needs to worry about sleeping on the couch tonight.

Don't use joint accounts for political contributions: It's admirable that you feel strongly enough about an election to donate money to a particular candidate. But you probably don't want to add a fight over money to already existing tensions over politics. When you and your spouse don't support the same person, make sure your donation comes from a bank account that is yours and yours alone. If using a joint account is the only viable option, talk to your spouse about your plans first. Some couples strike a compromise by each agreeing on a certain amount to donate to their candidate of choice. For example, if you donate $50 to the Republican Party, your spouse is free to do the same to support their party or their candidate.

Find Common Ground: Even with divergent political opinions, if you look deeply enough, there must be issues you both agree on. Maybe you both care about cleaning up the environment or providing affordable housing to working class families. If this is the case, look beyond the political rhetoric to organizations actively working to fix these problems. Groups like Habitat for Humanity don't seem to care very much about your political persuasion, as long as you're willing to pick up a hammer and help. Participating in a local beach or park clean up, volunteering at a women's shelter, or becoming a mentor to kids in after school programs are other ways to walk the walk and not just talk the talk, whether you are liberal or conservative.

In other words, take action, rather than endlessly bicker. Actually, wouldn't it be nice if politicians did this, too?

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