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.