My Husband and I Disagree About Politics and It Enrages Me

Both of you wish that the other truly understood and empathized with your position, and the easiest shortcut to feeling understood is by someone outright agreeing with you.
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Sleeping With The Enemy writes,

My husband and I have VERY different views on anything vaguely resembling politics (tea party conservative and social justice progressive, so you can imagine this touches on many topics). We have a hard time finding middle ground and every discussion ends up with us frustrated and angry. The weird thing is, I have no problem discussing politics with friends of opposing viewpoints. I find it to be an engaging intellectual exercise. But with him, it just kills me. And I know he doesn't talk down to his friends in these kind of discussions, but with me he does. He gets strident and I get defensive and kinda crazy, and end up thinking I married the wrong man. It gets old only talking about the kids.

Question: Why do I act like such a baby when I talk to him about politics? What can we -- and others like us -- do about it?

Dear SWTE,

Oooh, that would make me crazy too. Let's examine if this issue can be dealt with without the strident/defensive dynamic recurring (and this is a version of Mr. Perfect and His Crazy Wife called, hmm... how about Mr. I Know How The World Works and his Naive Idealistic Wife).

Since I know you virtually somewhat, I am going to add in the backstory that I know you were friends first with your husband before starting to date. So, in case anyone was thinking, WTF, didn't she already know he was that way when they met, the answer is, yes, but at that point he was a friend, and as you already said, you don't take this stuff as seriously when you discuss it with friends.

The reason people get incensed, enraged, saddened, frustrated and "crazy" when their views get dismissed by an intimate partner is that it feels like a rejection of their very core. Both you and your husband likely feel the same way, but your coping mechanisms are different (strident versus "crazy"). Both of you wish that the other truly understood and empathized with your position, and the easiest shortcut to feeling understood is by someone outright agreeing with you. But there is still hope even if you can never agree. And don't worry, it isn't "let's agree to disagree," which is basically shorthand for "passive aggressive way to say screw you and your stupid opinion."

You and your husband are going to try as hard as you can to empathize with each other's perspective, meaning that you will each say to one another, genuinely, "I understand where you're coming from." Then you will validate, which means saying, "It makes sense to me that you, and other smart people, would think that way." You will do this by taking each other's position in a serious and real way the next time an argument threatens to erupt. For real.

Specifically, this means that you will do a lot of research about his position, and then you will say something like, "I can really understand why you, who work as hard as you do, would find it aversive that others get government handouts." You don't have to AGREE, but you have to UNDERSTAND why he thinks that way. Expand on his view too, saying, "I get why a guy who built himself up on his own would want to choose how he spends his money and not have the government involved," or whatever the case may be. Then, he is going to try from the bottom of his heart to do the same for you and your crazy liberal opinions (that I agree with, most likely). Bonus points if you do this empathy exercise in front of the kids, so they can see how to respect and empathize with someone you don't agree with, which is one of the best lessons they can learn.

I would also like to add that in my clinical experience, when liberal wives get angry at their non-liberal husbands, it often has to do with a deep unconscious fear that their husband finds weak people to be disgusting, and that if the wives (or the kids) were to show a weak and vulnerable side of themselves, the husband might reject them utterly and contemptuously. If this resonates, then perhaps you could initiate a discussion with your husband where you ask about this outright. For example, "Maybe why this bothers me so much is that when you rail against people who accept welfare, it makes me wonder what you really think of me. I mean, you make more money than me. Do you secretly find me pitiful or contemptible?"

Finally, as always, you should look into your upbringing to figure out why your imago is a strident man who rejects your closest held beliefs, and why your fantasy remains to change him into a warmer, more vulnerable and sympathetic guy (even in this one realm). It is not coincidental that you asked, "Why do I act like such a baby about this topic?", it is true; your baby or child self is being triggered for some reason that you need to explore. So, was either parent rigid in their worldviews, contemptuous of the weak and inflexible when confronted with new information or a different perspective?

Did you always fantasize about having a more intellectually or emotionally open caregiver, or a more liberal one, in any sense of the word liberal? If so, this could explain why you picked your husband despite his political leanings (I wasn't going to entirely let you get off scot-free with that whole "he was your friend first" thing), and why you are continually triggered by his different perspective on this topic.

Oh and what do you mean without politics you'd only talk about the kids? What about my ten conversations every couple needs to have and my 100 date night questions? I hate small talk AND political talk AND talking about the kids and I still talk a lot, so there have to be other options!

Good luck and keep me updated! Till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Thinks Your Kids Will Be Shocked If You Can Pull Off That Assignment.

Dr. Rodman blogs at Dr. Psych Mom. Visit her on Facebook and Twitter @DrPsychMom.

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