“Politics doesn’t make strange bedfellows — marriage does.” Groucho Marx
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. The sense of betrayal when the person you live with is actually stupid enough to disagree with your clearly superior opinions has derailed many an alliance.
Let me put that another way: What do you do when you find out that your partner is an alien, one of the Other Party? Is it possible to truly love someone and deeply disagree about the direction the government should be taking? Are there options besides deadly silence or pitched battles?
Let’s consider the alternatives. 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. Or Reagan. (You may be getting a sense of my personal politics at this point.) The world didn’t come to an end then, but, by golly, this time it might. I have to say, this time, it matters. By all accounts from many sources, we humans don’t have much time to turn the ship of state toward planetary health. And from the experience of 2000 and 2004, we now know that each vote actually does matter. 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: It may seem counter-intuitive, but honest, feeling-ful communication has created many miracles in the three decades of our relationship work with clients. Simply saying how you feel and what you are experiencing creates new openings and collaboration.
This might sound like, “At first I was shocked when I heard your opinions, but when I really listened to myself I realized 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 (watch this how-to video we produced with Gaiam) 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 (gasp) with each other.