Surviving A Mixed Political Orientation Marriage

I’ve been a Democrat since I was 18. I’ve never had any regrets about this political affiliation, though I have on occasion found myself admiring the stances of Green Party candidates.  Similarly, my husband has been a Republican since he was 18, and he sometimes finds himself admiring some Libertarian candidates’ positions.

Every election since we’ve been married (sixteen years now), we happily go to the polls, vote our consciences, and generally cancel out each others’ votes for political candidates. There has only been one time in our marriage that politics have strained our relationship. And that was my doing. I gave him a hard time about supporting a certain issue that I felt strongly about. Afterwards, I felt bad for not respecting his conscience and resolved to not do that again. After all, he had always shown respect for my stances, even if he personally felt he needed to go a different direction.

Sometimes people have asked us how we have survived our mixed political orientation marriage. They look at me and shake their heads and say, “I just don’t know how you two do it.” Most of the time, I tell them, it’s really not a problem. My messiness and lack of desire to pick up after myself cause more tension.

Here are some of the reasons we have survived and even thrived in our marriage, despite our very real and sometimes passionate political differences.

  • Trust and Respect. I trust that my husband has good intentions and good motivations. Sixteen years of living with him have proved these good motivations over and over again. He’s not an idiot, he’s not immoral, and he’s not uncaring. In fact, he’s the exact opposite of all those things. Likewise, he respects where I come down on hot button issues and politics, even though it’s generally not where he comes down. He knows my values and my concerns. He understands that my experiences as a woman in a patriarchal society have led me to privilege care, concern, and justice for disadvantaged people over other factors.
  • Understand motivations. One thing that has helped both of us to develop this trust and respect is stepping back and recognizing what drives our different senses of morality and ultimate good. We both found Jonathan Haidt’s work to be helpful on this score. Haidt has found that there are six dimensions of moral concern. Care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority, and sanctity. Progressives, he says, are most concerned with care, fairness, and liberty. Traditionalists are concerned with all six dimensions. This breakdown resonates with my concerns as a progressive. I absolutely privilege care and justice when I make my moral decisions.
    • For instance, because I am so heavily weighted toward these two dimensions of care and fairness, I am in favor of gay marriage. I care about LGBT people and their happiness. And I think it’s fair that they should have the same civil rights regarding marriage as I do. I am not as concerned about authority on this issue, like what is traditional or what a church says. Loyalty to my tribe is not a strong enough reason for me to not support gay marriage. And I am not persuaded by arguments about LGBT relationships as impure or unsanctified.
    • On the other hand, many Mormons who voted for Prop 8 truly are considering all six of these dimensions. And their desire to be loyal to their tribe, their respect for authority and tradition, and their beliefs in sanctity/purity, in the end tip them towards restricting marriage to heterosexuals, even though care and fairness are also very real concerns for many of them.
  • Don’t vilify. It’s helped my husband and me to step back and recognize the very real and moral dimensions that lead us to different political stances. I may not privilege the same things he does when making these decisions, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that his stances are moral and products of real thought and consideration. It does neither of us any good to vilify the other person for taking certain political stances, and moreover, it’s not fair or generous of us to do so.
  • Let go of control. It’s been hard, at times, but I’ve come to articulate to myself this fact: that it’s not my job to try to control him. It’s not right for me to shove my morals onto him and expect him to behave in a way that resonates with my worldview. Part of my maturing process in this relationship is accepting the fact that my husband and I are like two circles in a Venn Diagram. We will overlap in some things and enjoy each other and find communion in those things. And there will always be those other parts that simply will never overlap. I will find others to commune with in those other areas, as will he. And that is ok.

This all may sound a bit Pollyannaish. In reality, I sometimes desperately wish that he would vote the same way I do on some things, especially when the stakes are high. In the past there have been those one or two occasions when it has been very difficult for me to see my spouse casting a vote for something that I feel causes real and significant harm to other people. Just the other day, after we talked and agreed about how problematic Donald Trump is (and he, thankfully, asserted that he would never vote for Trump), I wistfully asked him if he would vote for Clinton if he were in a swing state. He diplomatically said, “I wouldn’t rule it out, but it’s not a strong possibility.” Sigh. It’s a good thing I like and respect him so much – and that I can put that decision (among others) within a much bigger context – a context of sixteen years of generosity, respectful interactions, and real thoughtfulness towards me and so many others.

Caroline

Caroline is a PhD student in Women's Studies in Religion and mother of three.

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16 Responses

  1. A Happy Hubby says:

    Great points on how to make it work. It sounds like the exact same things needed for a mixed faith marriage to work.

    • Caroline says:

      Yes, you’re exactly right. This is what has enabled us to be happy in our, as I call it, interfaith Mormon marriage.

    • Rachel says:

      This was my first thought too, especially, especially that ‘trust that the other person is coming from a good place.’

  2. Liz says:

    Yes! I think this is fabulous, and your tips are exactly what has helped my mixed-political marriage thrive (although presidential election years are *always* the most turbulent times in our relationship). Understanding motivations has been really key for me, in particular.

    Solidarity, sister.

    • Caroline says:

      Yeah, understanding motivations really helps me to step back from my emotional reactions and try to look at the issue from his point of view. How does your husband deal with your political leanings? Does he ever give you a hard time?

      • Liz says:

        Not really – we’ve come to a “we’re both right and that’s ok” kind of place, although he does think I’m a little irresponsible in how much I brush off the Hillary email stuff (he sees it as a much bigger character flaw than I do). If he were a Trump supporter, then there would be friction, but thankfully he’s been a NeverTrump-er for a looong time. 🙂

  3. Emily U says:

    I’d assumed I was Republican in high school because almost everyone I knew was Republican, though I given few political issues much actual thought. When in college, I met my now-husband and realized his politics resonated with what was important to me, and lo and behold I was actually a Democrat. So politics has never been a source of tension for us. We’ve had plenty of other kinds of tension, lest I make our marriage sound perfect 🙂

    That said, politics has affected relationships in my family of origin. I don’t know what to do about that. I think things would be better if everyone followed the rules you describe, especially don’t vilify. Comments like “they are all depraved liars and haters of freedom” can hurt my feelings because I am one of “them.”

  4. Caroline says:

    Oh, I feel for you, Emily. Members of my family of origin are conservatives, but they tend to not say stuff like that. What a way to shut down any sort of productive conversation.

    • Emily U says:

      Yes, exactly, and the result over time becomes no conversation about politics, little conversation about religion, and an overall dampening of conversation in general. You can only go on so long before you run out of safe topics. It does me good to hear there are families with political differences who don’t talk like mine does…

  5. Rachel says:

    My parents sometimes voted the same, and sometimes didn’t. It felt really healthy for me, to see two people that I knew to be good have different opinions.

    My husband and I more frequently vote differently than one another, but we’ve also made some compromises and trades. If there are particular ballot measures one of us cares strongly about, and the other less so, we’ll both vote for the position of the one who cares strongly.

    I asked him if he would be willing to compromise and vote for Secretary Clinton, and he said no. Though he will not be voting for Trump. (That one would be much, much harder for me.)

    • Caroline says:

      I like your idea of compromising and trading on various issues. I’ll float that one out to my husband this evening and see if he is up for it. And yes, if my spouse were going to vote for Trump, I’m sure I’d be particularly troubled. Thank goodness I don’t have to deal with that one.

  6. EFH says:

    My husband and I vote differently. What I have noticed is that as we have known each other better over the years, we have no doubts over the good reasons that one of us has for choosing a position. We usually have agreed on what the problems are but have differed on what the solutions should be. And this difference has to do with how each of us understands human behavior and how it responds to political and economic incentives. I actually enjoy our differences in opinion because the conversations are always pleasant and enlightening. They help me understand the limitations of my position and think through issues in a more profound way.

    This political difference was more difficult to handle when we were dating because each of us was using stereotypes to measure the other. This was also a little confusing for our families who also vote differently. But we never vilified each other and this has been very important to maintain healthy relationship and often engage in unsafe topics.

    • Caroline says:

      EFH, we too often agree about problems but differ when it comes to solutions. And being married to someone who disagrees about solutions has been good for me too. It stretches me to try to hear and understand another point of view.

  7. spunky says:

    My parents had a mixed political orientation marriage. I think their example made it easier for me to stay company with and see both sides of an argument. Unlike many of my peers with similar issues, my father was a registered Democrat, and my mother was a registered Republican. I’m not affiliated with any one party and never have been, enjoying the freedom of being an independent voter– plus I don’t live in the US anymore, so the additional party lines in another place just make one mind frame too complicated for me (plus, ‘Democrats Abroad’ are an awful group! No idea about ‘Republicans Abroad’). Thankfully, my husband is also an independent, and equally open to making choices based on conscience over party.

    I love how you’ve been able to balance this in your marriage, Caroline, and how, in the end, respect and love of each other has not made these differences into an issue within your marriage. Well done!

  8. Caroline says:

    Thanks, spunky. How does it work in Australia? Are there two main parties or lots of parties?

    • Spunky says:

      In a nutshell:

      There are two primary parties, but a lot of smaller parties that carry weight. Being a Parliamentarian system, the party-preference generally goes to the larger party– so for example, in US terms– people voting Libertarian would be like casting a vote for the Republicans, and those voting Green (is there a Green party in the US) would be like casting a vote for the Democrats because the Libertarians are closer aligned with the Republicans and would– if not declared winners– would give their won votes to the Republicans.

      We do have members of Parliament who are in the Green party and so on– enough to sway a prime-minister-ship based on their votes alone. The current prime minister is prime minister because of this– the non-majority party senators aligned themselves with him for a majority house. But if they change their position, the PM loses his job. It’s a nice way to keep the PMs a bit more honest.

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