Most of us grew up learning to avoid speaking about politics and religion in public. Many of us also remember the dinner-table squabbles with parents who just "didn't get it" about music, the current administration or really anything else that was truly cool. But few of us have had adequate preparation for political divisions with our romantic partners. Have you ever had a relationship derailed by discovering that the other person is so misinformed as to disagree with your clearly superior opinion about some issue? Is it possible to love someone deeply, yet deeply disagree about the direction the government should be taking?
First, understand that arguing about politics is one of the common pastimes in the world. Wise pundits have observed that throughout history there have only been two political parties: the evil one and the stupid one. As Democrats ourselves, we often criticize the dumb moves made by our party, but no matter how stupid those moves sometimes seem to be, they never seem downright evil. From many dinner-table discussions with our parents, some of which were just as heated as the tuna casserole to which we were being subjected, we learned early in life that Republicans have exactly the same view in reverse. They thought the Republicans often did dumb things, but the truly evil party was the Democrats. If you are in a relationship with someone from the evil party, you need some extra help in navigating those tricky shoals.
The most important consideration might be summed up this way: does this issue really matter? Kathlyn says: "Having first voted in 1968, I've had several decades of experience with the political roller coaster. I remember truly thinking that western civilization would collapse when, for example, Nixon won. I had the same feeling when Reagan won. The world didn't come to an end then, but, by golly, this time it might! I found the prospect of a McCain/Palin presidency so painful to contemplate that it goaded me into levels of political action and financial contribution that are unprecedented in my life. So if you're sitting across the table from someone who isn't planning on voting for green solution candidates or the criteria you find essential, what do you do?"
Here's your best option, though it may seem counter-intuitive. Honest, feeling-ful communication has created many miracles in the three decades of our work with people going through relationship distress. Simply saying how you feel and what you are experiencing creates new openings and collaboration. This communication might sound like, "At first I was shocked when I heard your opinions, but when I really listened to myself I realize I feel sad. I don't know what to do. I feel distant from you right now. I'm scared about this gap between us."
This might not sound like bridge-building conversation, but authentic sharing actually creates intimacy quicker than anything else. Bridge-building is also furthered by the quality of your listening. Rather than righteously rebutting, you can choose to listen generously to what your partner wants. You can listen under the words to the deep intention. For example, you may hear between the spoken words that your partner wants to create safety for your children or a different career track that s/he can't quite envision yet. You can breathe and open your posture to receive from each other. You can choose to reflect what is actually being said to you rather than your opinion about what is being said. You can drop the words out and continue the conversation with sounds and gestures. You might find that you start exploring, wondering or even playing with each other about an issue you were fighting about moments before.