James and Mary we're not
June 28, 2010 8:04 AM   Subscribe

Help me navigated the political differences between me and my spouse!

My husband and I do not share the same political beliefs. We have known this all along, but it is becoming an issue. I am posting anonymously since I hope to avoid any responses being swayed by the respective parties' political preferences. Because it is anonymous, I will try to give as much detail as possible.

Before we dated and were just friends, we could have political debates with each other that could get quite "heated" but they were never hostile. We would debate and then it would be over. When we first started getting together as more than just friends, things started changing in our political interactions. He seemed to get much more defensive and much more hostile and personal in our political interactions. For example, when we first started being more than friends, he once said "I could never end up with someone who has ever voted for a democrat/republican/independent"...knowing full well that I had on many occasions. This hurt me quite a bit, but obviously he changed his mind since we are married now.

I am much more into politics than he is currently and spend a good deal of time listening to both liberal and conservative talk radio on XM channels (although admittedly more time on the side I agree with) and reading as much as I can on current political issues. I disagree with both major parties on many issues so I do not self-identify with either (although I agree with one on more issues than the other). My husband definitely has a party of choice.

I like to talk about politics (especially with those whom I disagree) and while my mind is rarely changed, I like trying to find out why others might hold a differing opinion. I can have these debates with other people without them getting angry and like to think I am respectful in these debates. I do not call names or think the other person is stupid for having their beliefs.

I have seen my husband have political debates with others without getting defensive or hostile. He just can't seem to do that with me and I hate it. He wants to have a no-political-talk policy in our house but I think that is a bad idea and I get resentful that he finds it so abhorrent to even listen to my opinions.

The other night, politics came up, it was going along alright when I said something like "I think the __________administration is/was brilliant/disastrous" and he got up and walked out of the room. I knew when I said it that he would not agree and that my statement was provocative, but I just wish he would have respected me enough to hear me out as to why I might feel that way.

It feels like he is so deeply entrenched in his own ideology that even hearing differing opinions from me is threatening in some way. I feel like he is completely closed off to the possibility of being even remotely influenced (not changed) by something I might say that he simply walks away. That kind of stings. I do not expect him to abandon his beliefs or agree with me, but I do wish he would be open to having them intellectually challenged and thoughtfully considered. He is otherwise very intellectually curious and the fact that he is so closed off from me on this subject hurts my feelings.

I feel like he thinks by my criticism or praise of this or that administration is a personal affront to him in some way. He reacts as though I have just directly attacked him in some way that I just don't understand. I know I have not always handled myself perfectly in these debates, but I have never personally attacked him, his intelligence or character. I have, however, gotten very frustrated because he tends to obfuscate and divert the arguments. Once he started arguing over my assessment that Massachusetts/Texas tends to be a more liberal/conservative state despite the fact that I think this is pretty widely accepted and it was merely tangential to the point I was making. I think he did this because he couldn’t argue with my main point so he went on the attack on the mostly unrelated side issue.

We otherwise get along very well and agree on most things. He can get defensive in our other rare arguments, but those are personal so I understand that. Should I just agree to the no-political-debate rule? It is the easiest solution, but it makes me feel like if we can't figure out how to discuss politics in a healthy way, it can't be a good sign in other areas of eventual discord. Are there some people that are so ideological that they can’t discuss these things in a respectable way? Am I on the receiving end of the “spousal discount factor” here? How do I not take it personally when I feel like he would rather gnaw his arm off to get away than say “Wow, that’s an interesting/valid/legitimate idea. I hadn’t thought about it that way before.”? Are there any "mixed" couples out there with practical advice?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (42 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
There are plenty of people in the world with whom you can argue about politics. You say yourself that your mind is rarely changed, and yet, you want him to be open to having his mind changed (by you.)

You're the one forcing the issue. He has his beliefs and he's happy to have them. You have your beliefs, and you'd be happy if he had them.

Seriously, there are so many things to a marriage- what matters is that you're upsetting your spouse, and insisting that he do something he doesn't want to do.

If this were a sex act you're insisting on, the answer would be clear- nobody has to have a kind of sex they don't want to have. Well, he doesn't want to talk about politics.

I advise getting your porn political debate online.
posted by headspace at 8:09 AM on June 28, 2010 [15 favorites]

Your husband, who you admit can talk about politics with other people, seems to value preserving domestic tranquility over talking about politics. You are in the strange position of suggesting that his desire to preserve tranquility is somehow an affront to tranquility.

I would also suggest that while you may see yourself as completely reasonable in your approach and presumptions about political conversations, he may not experience you that way at all. You apparently make statements designed to provoke him, you may also have other traits in political discussions that make them less fun for him than they are for you.

Perhaps you should re-examine your investment in getting him to talk with you about something in a way that he does not enjoy.
posted by OmieWise at 8:15 AM on June 28, 2010 [5 favorites]

It feels like he is so deeply entrenched in his own ideology that even hearing differing opinions from me is threatening in some way.

Could just be that he is experiencing massive cognitive dissonance from "I really love her!" vs "I completely disagree with her political opinions!" and he has trouble trying to figure out the correct response.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:17 AM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

You make a lot of guesses in your question here about why he behaves the way he does when you bring up politics. Have you tried asking him why it's so upsetting for him?
posted by trunk muffins at 8:18 AM on June 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

The fact that he's asking for a bright-line, no-political-talk policy suggests to me that he feels political talk between you isn't or tends not to feel safe to him. It sounds as if such talk has tended to get heated and hostile at times, and he doesn't want to have heated, hostile interactions with you. That seems understandable, even though it's also problematic.

The only way you're going to break that association for him is to make such conversations safe. This is especially hard to do when you're frustrated and not feeling respected or listened to. Somewhat counter-intuitively, the best way to help him be able to hear you out is for you to hear him out first. He's clearly uncomfortable about all of this, and is avoidant because he can't see a peaceful way through. Help him out.
posted by jon1270 at 8:19 AM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Exactly what headspace says. You admit that you're husband can discuss politics with other people, so clearly he can be open to hearing new or different ideas. There's some element of the political conversation with you that makes the topic uncomfortable for him. Because of the relationship the two of you have, politics takes on a personal aspect -- more is at stake when the two of you talk politics than when one of you is having a fun debate with a friend or acquaintance.

If this pattern is not readily apparent in other areas, I think you can safely view this topic as an outlier in your marriage. And frankly, I worry more about the behaviors of a spouse who will not let a topic go, than the spouse who requests that one topic be off limits.

Your husband has been very clear about his boundaries -- he does not want to talk politics with you. Respect his boundaries.
posted by freshwater at 8:26 AM on June 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Let this go. My ex and I had the same issue, and I came down on the same side as your husband -- that is, I no longer wished to have these discussions at all. My ex continued to force them, and while I won't say that it was the largest factor in our breakup, I can say that my current paramour is much more able to accept "I don't feel like talking about this anymore -- we aren't going anywhere good."

Give yourself a deadline (I suggest "the rest of this year," as that will take you through the midterm elections and some of their fallout) and do not discuss politics with him at all during that time. Don't tell him you're doing this. Just do it for yourself. See whether your relationship with him improves over this time.
posted by Etrigan at 8:35 AM on June 28, 2010

I like to talk about politics (especially with those whom I disagree)

What you think is interesting is to him having to constantly defend and explain his personal views and on top of that, to his spouse. This gets emotionally tiring after a while and brews resentment.

You need to look outside your marriage for this mental stimulation.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:35 AM on June 28, 2010 [4 favorites]

I feel like he thinks by my criticism or praise of this or that administration is a personal affront to him in some way. He reacts as though I have just directly attacked him in some way that I just don't understand. I know I have not always handled myself perfectly in these debates, but I have never personally attacked him, his intelligence or character.

People in general have a tendency to associate their beliefs with their own identity as a person. Different people do this to different degrees on different topics (one person might not be able to hear criticism about a political party without taking personal offense, while someone else might feel the same way about criticism for a particular sports team).

It sounds like you are able to think about politics on a completely abstract level, whereas your husband can't help tangling the issues up with who he is, so that what you consider to be a friendly debate can be from his perspective a proxy battle for his personal self-worth. I understand your perspective that political discussions are something that you enjoy and want to share with your partner, but if there isn't a way to make those topics less emotionally charged and frustrating for him then it may be best if you go along with his no-debate proposal.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:40 AM on June 28, 2010

How do I not take it personally when I feel like he would rather gnaw his arm off to get away

I don't even know you and just imagining how these political talks go between you two makes me want to gnaw my own arm off to get away.

He is saying to you, I don't want to do X. So your response to that is to badger him into doing X? Stop doing that. Find other outlets to discuss politics. There is definitely no shortage of places for you to do that. Politics makes even relatively sane people go apeshit, so just back off and leave him alone about it.

My husband and I have similar political beliefs, so that is not an issue for us, but we do have topics that are totally off the table for us, because there is no way that we're ever going to see eye to eye on those topics and so we just don't discuss them with each other.
posted by crankylex at 8:40 AM on June 28, 2010 [11 favorites]

Are there any "mixed" couples out there with practical advice?

I would also find it a real challenge to be on a different page, politically, than my husband. We disagree about more than a few things, but we dislike the same scumbags. But of course it can be done, with mutual respect, cultivating the passions that the two of you do share, and, if need be--as it appears here (Nthing comments above)--putting politics off limits.

An elderly relative whom I adore was married with her husband, whom everyone adored, for forty years until his death and they, while practically attached at the hip, were political opposites. They doted upon one another with affectionate names and all the rest, had no children, and shared many non-political interests like travel and dancing and gardening and bridge and alcohol and kept far away from topics like Vietnam, abortion, or what should be done about all that carrying on in the city these days. In his declining decade she took to secretly hiding his dentures every voting day so he wouldn't leave the house ("too vain") to go vote for that year's you know who.
posted by applemeat at 8:41 AM on June 28, 2010

So this reads like you feel that your wish to discuss politics with him trumps his wish to not discuss it. Am I right here? Why are your wishes more important than his?

If my husband persisted in pushing a subject - regardless of the actual subject - that I didn't wish to discuss, my big problem would be with him not respecting my feelings. See, the whole politics thing here is a red herring. The subject doesn't matter. He doesn't want to discuss it, and those are his feelings. You are disrespecting him. I think you should let it lie.
posted by gaspode at 8:42 AM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

"It feels like he is so deeply entrenched in his own ideology that even hearing differing opinions from me is threatening in some way."

It is THREATENING YOUR MARRIAGE. It's not because he's so deeply entrenched that he doesn't want to hear from you; it's because he can argue with people who don't matter to him, but he can't argue with you because you MATTER to him and it's UPSETTING for him. He's not threatened by your opinions; the arguments themselves are a threat to your marriage.

And honestly, if I were him, I'd be pretty damned hurt that you put "having a political argument" that you can have with anyone, anywhere, and YOUR political opinions over his feelings and your marriage. From what you've written it seems like your marriage is less important to you than your politics. I suspect he feels "affronted" because he's prioritizing your marriage; you're prioritizing politics. It hurts him, and you don't even seem to notice how much you're upsetting him because you're so wrapped up in the politics.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:44 AM on June 28, 2010 [10 favorites]

I knew when I said it that he would not agree and that my statement was provocative, but I just wish he would have respected me enough to hear me out as to why I might feel that way.

I am one of those people who has certain topics that are just not okay for what I would consider polite discussion and it seems like you guys are having a pretty serious boundaries issue.

Politics is very important to you. Your husband does not want to talk to you about something that you consider very important. You seem to be, to my read, trying to goad him into talking to you about this sort of thing and then complaining that he doesn't respect you when he refuses to engage after you provoke him. To my read, you are not respecting him or his boundaries at all. To add to this, you seem to be using this as a way to discredit the way your husband thinks about and believes things which seems to be unkind as well as problematic in the context of the harmony of your relationship. This sentence.

Are there some people that are so ideological that they can’t discuss these things in a respectable way?

Is rude. You seem to be using it to apply to your husband but it could just as easily apply to you, where it's so important for you to not just talk about politics but actually argue about it that you don't respect your husband's desire to not mix it up with you. Put another way, at some level I think if you're in a long term partnership with someone, you need to have a certain level of tolerance for their viewpoints. So your husband's viewpoints, which you feel that you are tolerating, are not actually "I vote for the X Party" but they are more "I do not want to have endless debates about politics" You respect the former viewpoint but not the latter one.

Some people feel that time spent interacting with their loved one should be a more harmonious space than others do. This is the topic that you and your husband need to get on the same page about, not who is voting for whom.
posted by jessamyn at 8:44 AM on June 28, 2010 [5 favorites]

I see where the "lay off" responses are coming from, but I know I'd also have a very hard time "respecting his boundaries" on this. The reason is that--for him and for you--political views are grounded in values, and values and identity are really entwined, to the point that the latter is partly constituted by the former. That might be what's making it hard for him to talk to you about politics: as EndsOfInvention said, there's a dissonance between his love for you and what your political views say about who you are.

I'd suggest that, rather than deciding to shut up about such big, identity-constituting discussions, you need to have a very honest conversation with him about why he can have the kind of political talks that you want with others, but not with you. Knowing that he'll be defensive, you should look yourself in the mirror beforehand and promise not to get defensive yourself, not to try to score potshots, and to make him feel safe in the discussion. Then promise him the same.

Even if this ends up with an agreement that you'll stop talking politics together, you obviously need to have an attack-free, air-clearing conversation about this relationship dynamic just to get to that point.
posted by Beardman at 8:45 AM on June 28, 2010 [5 favorites]

I have family with drastically different political views than I do. We've all pretty much agreed that to keep the peace, we just won't talk about it. We're family and we like each other in general, but sometimes our views are so disparate that it would be hard (for us anyway) not to look at the person differently and have it affect our other interactions.

Talking politics with people of dissenting views is not necessarily a bad thing--if all people involved are getting something out of it. If anyone in the conversation is not comfortable with the conversation, there's really no reason to pursue it. I personally think you should just let it go and get your politics on with other people. Is this the hill you want to die on?
posted by Kimberly at 8:49 AM on June 28, 2010

Hell, I have a no-political-talk rule with my partner and we agree on 99.9% of stuff.

Why? Because it's just not a pleasant activity for me. Doing unpleasant things with my spouse is a waste of time when I could be snuggling him or making jokes about his cousins or watching The Shield.

Why would you continue to pressure your husband to do something he finds highly unpleasant, and that causes fights between you? Discounting his feelings and preferences is what will ruin your marriage, not some abstract future conflict.

Don't waste your time trying to figure out why he can discuss things with other people but not with you. It's different with his friends than with you. You have a special relationship. He feels differently about you than he does about his friends. This is, on balance, a good thing.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:00 AM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I play your husband's role, to a degree, in a relationship. Let me see if I can't be useful, hopefully without being too insulting.


spend a good deal of time listening to both liberal and conservative talk radio

was a red flag. Talk radio listeners and overly enthusiastic followers of political blogs can be a bit tedious to listen to if you are not one of them. Those things -- talk radio and blogs -- are driven by filling space up with words, and often, an outsider feels, they have far more words than the topics warrant. You know. "Blowhard." So. Is there any chance you tend to go on and on once given the slightest opening?

Also. You know he does not agree with you on these things; yet "I knew when I said it...my statement was provocative." Is there any chance it comes off like you're baiting him a bit? Some people's "enter into debate" comes off as "spoiling for a fight." And if he has asked to stay out of these discussions, what else is it?

"It feels like he is so deeply entrenched in his own ideology that even hearing differing opinions from me is threatening in some way. I feel like he is completely closed off to the possibility of being even remotely influenced" -- this is rather too much "I bet I could convince him if only he'd listen."

He's an intelligent person, yes? So, he is aware of the issues to the extent he wants to be aware of them. And he does not agree with you. It sounds like he has made this clear many times. And like he has asked more than once to avoid the topic, and like you keep bringing it up. What else is he going to do at this point but get up and leave the room?

He may (extrapolating here, yes) feel you are so "wrong" that it makes him uncomfortable to acknowledge that this person he otherwise loves and respect could be so "stupid" politically. If you lean far to the right somewhere, perhaps he's galled to see what he perceives to be a cold, heartless side of you. If you lean far to the left somewhere, perhaps he's ashamed at what a gullible naff you can be.

At any rate -- drop it. Perhaps in the future you can find a way to mention politics in passing, but it really sounds like you need to entirely stop it for the time being.
posted by kmennie at 9:02 AM on June 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you are probably more "informed" of what's going on in the political sphere, yes? And I suspect that when you start to have these conversations, you often have more "evidence" to back up your points -- because this is how you spend your free time, yes? And he doesn't, because he has views but he doesn't spend his free time reading about and validating his views. I imagine you've probably had a conversation that went something like this:

You: "I think the __________administration is/was brilliant/disastrous."
Him: "I disagree. I think XYZ was at least successful because of ABC."
You: "Well, if you'd read Instapundit/Kaus/Iglesias you'd know that ABC was completely misinformed and ill-advised and the fact that it had any impact at all was because of LMNOP."
Him: "..."

I have had these conversations with people and they are Not Fun. This is why I do just what your husband did when people in my family start these conversations -- I get up and leave. There is no "conversing" in those conversations -- there is sitting and being talked at and having one's own contributions ignored (you've all but said you won't be convinced by anything he's going to say to you). I like my family and rather than sit and get frustrated at how they don't actually listen in political conversations, I leave and don't come back until we can talk about something else.

As Kimberly notes, when it comes to political conversations, they just don't work unless all the people are getting something out of the conversation. It sounds like he doesn't. It's not fun to be the person that someone else preaches at , especially if that person thinks they know more than you (and consequently won't take your views seriously).
posted by devinemissk at 9:08 AM on June 28, 2010 [12 favorites]

I am an arguer. I enjoy arguing, especially about things like politics, and I can let it go later. I'd be a little annoyed if I had a relationship with someone that was built partially on those arguments that suddenly changed into "let's not have them at all ever anymore", because it's changing the kind of relationship we had. It is not that all relationships need to have arguments, or that people who don't like those kinds of things are wrong, but liking this kind of argument is also not wrong.

On the other hand, goading him and trying to get him to fight isn't nice. He doesn't want to talk politics, so don't talk politics, talk about why you are arguing about this. What made him decide to stop having these discussions with you? Why is it so important to you that you discuss politics, in particular? Is there some way you could have these discussions without upsetting him? In the end, there might be no way for you to have those arguments anymore, and you'll need to figure out how you want to live with that, but there might be some way you can continue to discuss politics that won't upset him.

You need to agree not to get defensive and not to provoke him when you have this discussion, too. The discussion isn't about politics, it's about how you two communicate.
posted by jeather at 9:13 AM on June 28, 2010

My husband and I come from a pretty similar place politically, and I enjoy what I would characterize as "information-sharing" political conversations.

What I do not enjoy is when we have a real disagreement about a particularly contentious issue. I tend to argue from a values-based/emotion-based perspective, and he argues from an academic/"clinical" perspective. When this kind of discussion occurs, I often wind up feeling under attack. He gets frustrated when I don't want to continue the discussion, or concede that he might have a point - just as I get really upset when he is willing to adopt a POV/perspective on issues, in the context of this type of discussion, that I find completely offensive to the values that I hold. This is the case even when I know he doesn't really believe that perspective, or that he finds it just as repugnant as I do.

Do you tend to argue from an emotional or intellectual perspective? What about your husband? Having opposite styles (and not being aware of/not acknowledging this) could lead to the major stress that your husband seems to experience during these situations.
posted by purlgurly at 9:15 AM on June 28, 2010

I agree with the masses. Stop talking about politics with your husband. Find a group who has the same beliefs as you and get it all out with them. Unless my spouse was engaging in activities I thought were illegal or immoral, I wouldn't give it a second thought. To a point, that is: I am a vegetarian, but my spouse is a meat eater. We live in perfect harmony. Now, if I found out my husband was secretly a white supremacists, he'd be out on the streets before he could say... well, anything.

Anecdote: One of my old friends had a similar problem with his parents. His dad was intensely right-wing, to the point where even after one drink he'd lecture everyone at the dinner table about how terrible the current administration was and how "great" GWB was. His wife was extremely tolerant, but it was clear she was embarrassed at times as well. Not because she had different views, but because no one wanted to talk about politics. Period. It was an extremely stressful and uncomfortable situation for everyone, which was made worse by this blatantly offensive rude comments. Similar to: "I think the __________administration is/was brilliant/disastrous"

Stay quiet about your beliefs, and live long and prosper in a relaxed, bi-partisan relationship.
posted by two lights above the sea at 9:26 AM on June 28, 2010

Nth-ing turning off the political debate.

Of course, don't disregard your opinions or your political affiliations, they are still valid, but concentrate on the stuff you mutually enjoy when you spend time together.

It's so easy to get carried away when talking politics (and I empathise with anyone who does so). Keep tuned in to the topics you feel passionate about, but be wary of inadvertently hurting his feelings.

Meanwhile, if you need your banter fix, watch Adam's Rib (but don't take it too seriously).
posted by dumdidumdum at 9:40 AM on June 28, 2010

Should I just agree to the no-political-debate rule? It is the easiest solution, but it makes me feel like if we can't figure out how to discuss politics in a healthy way, it can't be a good sign in other areas of eventual discord.

I think you need to get to the bottom of why he feels XYZ when you bring up these topics. I know you see yourself as a rational

I have a friend who leans toward the left/right/middle and who sees himself as being helpful and adding spice to our group's political commentary, just so we're not sitting around agreeing with each other. This idea sounds great on paper but the actual execution makes everyone cringe and creates a negative atmosphere.

I think - aside from heeding the advice of other commenters - that you should wait several weeks during which you don't talk about politics and then ask your husband to explain to you how your approach to these "debates" makes him feel. You want to be sure that you're not using the same off-putting approach when dealing with more personal topics.
posted by cranberrymonger at 9:41 AM on June 28, 2010

Some people look for the sort of confrontational relationship where both members of the couple get deep into the weeds about some issue. They find it stimulating. It sounds like you are this sort of person and your husband isn't. Find an outlet for your desire to contentiously talk politics and leave it in that outlet. Few people want to come home after a long day at work to see someone who's been waiting all day, armed with a bunch of talking points, ready to argue with him.

spend a good deal of time listening to both liberal and conservative talk radio

Don't do this. Talk radio is designed to give you things to be outraged about and then to give you a set of things to say and argue about with your friends and relative each day. It is tedious and not very interesting. Plus, as you get older, your hearing will naturally start to fade, and you'll find yourself turning up the radio at high volume to listen to this stuff, and you life will become just a blaring of high-volume talk radio ranting, and you really don't want to be that person.
posted by deanc at 9:42 AM on June 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

I agree with kmennie: Talk radio listeners and overly enthusiastic followers of political blogs can be a bit tedious to listen to if you are not one of them.

My mother is devoted listener of conservative talk radio. She is an absolute blowhard, and she enjoys baiting normal, everyday conversations. My sister refers to this as "Becking out", as in, "Mom and I were talking about X but then she Becked out and I had to go home."

It is nearly impossible to have a conversation with my mother that does not involve her interjecting her political opinion into something totally innocuous. And then she wonders why no one wants to spend any time with her. Shockingly, she does not understand why I do not wish to be called a commie libtard.

My point here is this: make sure you're not Becking* out and not realizing it.

*Insert talk show host of your choosing, of course.
posted by crankylex at 9:42 AM on June 28, 2010 [11 favorites]

Edit: I know you see yourself as a rational... ...and polite person, but it's easy to be blind to our own faults.
posted by cranberrymonger at 9:42 AM on June 28, 2010

I am on one side of the political spectrum and my ex-wife was on the other. Funny thing was, we agreed on almost all things, just not on how to finance them. Who isn't in favor of helping everyone else out? The only policy we differed on was the military involvement overseas. One thinks all war is bad, the other thinks the military should not be involved in foreign affairs unless asked or unless we here in the states are directly at risk.

Anyway, we would have political arguments all the time. Until it got hostile. Then we agreed to the no politics rule. That became a problem as the kids got older and we had dinner conversations about current events. Kids thought we were nuts. But we held fast to the no politics rule. The ONLY thing it did was create internal resentment and frustration. So much so that it hurt our marriage. If you cannot trust each other to discuss disagreements then you will have big issues going forward. I made that mistake. Don't you. If politics is important to you then discuss it with your husband.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:51 AM on June 28, 2010

I know a mixed-politics couple. He's a Republican, she's a Democrat. She handles the day-to-day family finances. Whenever he wrote out a check to a Republican candidate, she'd see it clear, and write out a check for the exact same amount to the Democratic candidate. (Neither of them consulted the other beforehand.)

He found out about it when he discovered that campaign donations can be searched online, did a search on his own address, and saw the list of donations.

Their solution: they called a truce, and now look for charities that they can agree on together, and support them instead. No more political donations.

I think an analogous solution would be to agree to disagree, and talk about other stuff. There are boatloads of online discussion fora where you can get your politics-talking ya-yas out if that's what you enjoy.
posted by ambrosia at 9:56 AM on June 28, 2010

My parents split liberal/conservative on fiscal, administrative, foreign policy issues, (but not on social issues, thank goodness, that shit gets dirty and heated no matter what)

What I'm hearing from your question, is that you might fall into a Thinking and Judging, personality. You're interested in reason, showing your reasoning and logic skills, understanding others reasoning, etc. Your husband might be a bit more emotive and feeling, and challenging feelings with logic rarely works out well.

My father, and myself also fall into a thinking/judging spectrum, while my mom is more emotive. I love debates, and don't take things personally. I also realize thats not for everyone. Especially if your spouse is maybe a bit more introverted, in addition to being emotive, debates can seem very daunting and personal, like an attack rather than an intellectual exercise.

What can you do? Well I for one like to get some of that fighty/debate impulse out with other people (online or otherwise). I also try not to read partisan sources.

Choosing your battles is important too. There are issues that will be fruitful to discuss, and issues that will not. A large complex issue, (eg, immigration, fiscal regulation) will have multiple points of view, facts and opinions, and usually when closely examined is never black and white, but many shades of grey. There are also issues that are not as complex, and are really just partisan bickering (eg, birthers). When an issue comes up that is entirely partisan politics for headlines, ignore it. Avoiding these kinds of issues all together is probably for the best.
posted by fontophilic at 10:02 AM on June 28, 2010

I was "your husband." My ex had opposing political views from me. She liked to talk about politics. So did her family. After a few screaming matches that (of course) changed no one's point of view, we agreed she and I that the extent of our discussions about politics would be logistics on getting to the polling place. As for her family... I simply made it plain that I was not interested in those sorts of discussions by stating so clearly once, and subsequently by leaving the room immediately when they started to discuss politics of any kind. Awkward at times, but generally preserved familial peace.

I can tell you that if the ex and I had made a "no politics" agreement and then she kept bringing up politics, our marriage would have broken up much sooner than it did, because if she continued showing me that total lack of respect and overweeningly selfish argumentativeness, I wouldn't have given us six months.

So, if a sound, stable marriage is what you're after -- you'll stop baiting him when he's made it crystal clear that he doesn't want to be baited.

Keep in mind that this kind of ideological friction is going to always skitter around under the table of your marriage and every once in a while is going to get kicked accidentally and wind up causing a stir. If everything else is good with your marriage, then just keep an eye on it. Otherwise this may be a warning sign of problems ahead.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:04 AM on June 28, 2010

Are there some people that are so ideological that they can’t discuss these things in a respectable way?

Yes, there are. And it's entirely possible that you are that person.

Why are you talking to him about this? Are you trying to change his mind? Did you hear something on the radio and feel "armed" with something you needed to "fire" at someone?

I know I have not always handled myself perfectly in these debates, but I have never personally attacked him, his intelligence or character.

It may be implicit: if you're confronting him with some kind of "talking points of the day," then it may be effectively saying, "I think you are too stupid to have heard or grapple with this devastating argument." No one wants to be hectored with something they heard on talk radio.

The reason James and Mary (referenced in their title) work so well is because they're both whores who really don't give a damn about the moral implications of whatever they're arguing about. It's a job. They're handed a set of things to say each day by their respective party organizations to "get out the message." For them, at the end of the day, who really cares? He gets paid, she gets paid, and no matter who wins or loses, they both still have their jobs and are relatively safe and healthy. It's an abstraction. For some people, political issues are not just abstract points of debate: in fact they are very serious that people might take as a personal affront if one adopts a certain political "identity" and uses it as a cudgel.
posted by deanc at 10:16 AM on June 28, 2010

One other thought - IMO, arguing with your SO (maybe feeling that you're being intellectually attacked or ambushed) is significantly different than arguing with friends. I feel much more vulnerable in political arguments with mr. purl.
posted by purlgurly at 10:17 AM on June 28, 2010

You are a political junkie, and your husband is not. I think that's the problem as much as your actual political differences.

He is otherwise very intellectually curious and the fact that he is so closed off from me on this subject hurts my feelings.

It seems like you're hurt by this because your interest in politics is a big part of your identity. When he doesn't want to engage in political debate with you, you probably feel that he's dismissing an important part of who you are. But his lack of desire to talk politics at home doesn't mean he doesn't appreciate this part of your identity. Does he appreciate your intellect and curiosity in general? Those traits are common to many different interests and passions, and can be appreciated by other people even if the object of passion is not shared to the same degree (or at all). Can you have good discussions about non-political topics? It's important to be able to talk to your spouse, but your spouse doesn't need to be the person you talk about everything with.

And it sounds like he is feeling the same way you are: dismissed. I think you two should have a discussion about how you each truly feel, deep down, when this issue comes up. When you each understand the other's position (not just what you assume the other's position to be), then you can decide how to proceed.
posted by spinto at 10:22 AM on June 28, 2010 [7 favorites]

Are there any "mixed" couples out there with practical advice?

Yes. You and your husband. His request was very practical. Not sure why you can't hear it from someone you love, but are asking it from strangers. Give up the need of having this conversation with him as an act of love towards him and your marriage.
posted by Vaike at 10:58 AM on June 28, 2010

I am very much like you, and I have been in your situation. This thread has wonderful advice, so thank you for posing this question. The way people have come in to look at this from your husband’s perspective and have offered his side of things is how I wish I could look at most situations in life, especially before jumping to conclusions about others’ motivations and characters. My own stated mantra is “don’t take things personally” and it is still extremely and endlessly difficult not to do that, especially when it comes to people who shape our world – not only family, spouse, close friends but also those with political power.

So I would caution you against ever becoming complacent and comparing yourself to your spouse in such a way: that you are open-minded while he is ideological, or that you don’t take things personally while he does. Open-minded non-personal interaction is a challenge every time. And if you start going down the road where you feel you’ve figured someone (as opposed to some thing) out, stop yourself. This is especially difficult for those of us who love to understand things and are always ready to take on the challenge of trying to figure things out, but I think it’s so crucial to remember that people are complicated, have free will and deserve their needs to be met as much as you.

And this is what I ultimately think this is about: your needs, in this particular context (which happens to be political but could have been anything else), are different from your husband’s. As I said, I’ve been in your situation. I was in a long-term, mostly wonderful relationship with someone who would just shut down when it came to discussing a specific type of issue. This was hurtful to me because not only was this an issue that I cared very much about, but also because I felt that when he refused to talk about it, he was shutting me out of a part of his life / brain / way of thinking. In general, I am an extremely verbal person, not very sure about reading people’s non-verbal cues, and love to have great conversations – which we had many of, despite our disagreement on this one type of issue.

It wasn’t that he didn’t know what I thought or didn’t care about it – what hurt was that he would withdraw when I was needing to talk. So just from my point of view, I would question your assumption that you are only hurt because he can’t stand to listen to you. He already knows (based on your values and many past conversations) what you broadly think. (You yourself mentioned that you rarely change your mind, and I am not taking that to mean that you’re close-minded but rather that you’re pretty sure about what you think and why.) I suspect that what hurts you is that he withdraws when you’re needing to talk about something.

Another thing that was at play in my relationship – and I suspect is at play here – was that this type of conversation was just something I was flat out better than him at. Nearly always, without intending to do so but in my quest to be thorough and insightful and what not, I would come out on top. It wasn’t that he didn’t challenge me or that I was brilliant. It wasn’t that being right was fun for me (it wasn’t, it was the conversation that interested and excited me) or even that I was objectively right, but I could always prove my points better than him. At some point, yes, he began to shut down, and I don’t blame him for that. Being proved less right is fine once in a while, but it gets old and it’s wearying. Being proved wrong is especially painful, not necessarily because our identity is tied in to what we believe, but because how we look at the world and interpret it and make decisions is based on what we (think we) know. Being repeatedly made to reconsider the world we think we live in – that’s truly unpleasant. It doesn’t just take being “okay” with being wrong (although no one likes to repeatedly be disproved in their own house), it puts a lot of things into question that most of us just don’t have the time or energy to reconsider. So over time I really began to see his shut down as not about me but rather his need to protect himself from getting unsettled. If he didn’t engage, he wouldn’t have to rethink everything if/when I disagreed with him in the annoyingly rational way that I have.

He never took the subject off the table, but I began making a conscious effort to not push anything that wasn’t as fun for him as it was for me, or looked like it could stop being fun for him down the conversation. Sometimes I do wish he’d just made it a rule or put a blanket moratorium on the subject, so I wouldn’t always be checking myself, holding myself back, treading on thin ice and feeling unfulfilled or hurt. But he didn’t do that, and instead just reacted (by shutting down or by misinterpreting unrelated things as being about That Issue). So I also encourage you to look at this as something your husband is doing not just for himself, but to keep things good and pleasant for both of you. He has known you long enough to know that it’s difficult to change your mind. On some level maybe he even knows that you’re right, but dealing with that on your terms, in conversation, is unpleasant for him. And he doesn’t want to be unpleasant. He has taken responsibility for it; he has said: this is what I need. That’s more honest and self-aware than many people are able to be, in their relationships.

That said, what do you need? You love to discuss things, and to talk about what is important or interesting to you. But do you need to do it with your spouse in particular? Do you feel the need to prove yourself right and to challenge his beliefs (which, it seems from your question, he’s not trying to enforce on you in any way)? Do you feel the need to bring him on your side or to sort things out with him? Well, he has made it expressly clear that those are not fruitful or fun projects for him, and you definitely need to respect that. What is up to you is to decide whether discussion about abstract political issues is more important to you (and it is, for some people) than your relationship with somebody who sees those specific things differently. And it is up to you to find alternative means of fulfilling yourself.

What you shouldn’t do, in my opinion, is continue expecting or needing him to fulfill the need that he has conveyed he cannot and does not want to address. What you shouldn’t do is resent him for not participating. None of that means that you discount your needs; you’re free to start a blog, or call into radio shows, or find friends who are more political-minded. But it takes two for a conversation; if he’s not up for it, you’re only talking to yourself. Don’t place this particular need in your husband; it’s not his responsibility to fulfill you in every way.

As for me, in my particular relationship, I realized, over time, that someone repeatedly withdrawing from me (often about things I couldn’t foresee as being problematic for him) was punishing to me and I didn’t have the ability to figure him out or what he wanted from moment to moment. So I was exhausted, and that relationship did not work out. In that sense, I think you should give your husband some credit – I think he is a lot more open-minded (he married you, yes? How important could ideology be to him, then, really?) and possibly more invested in the peace and pleasantness of your relationship than you’re able to see. He’s giving you space and expecting the same. He’s not starting fights when you try to encroach but rather leaving before conversations become arguments. Nothing wrong with that, no matter what he thinks of Bush.
posted by mondaygreens at 11:06 AM on June 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

Like everyone else, I think you should stop having these arguments with him, and I think you should go one further: stop caring about politics so much. I was much like you. I still am. Some time ago, though, I decided that maintaining good relationships with friends and loved ones is a lot more important to my life and my personal happiness than my politics is. When I was honest with myself, I realized that I got into these arguments mostly for selfish and self-aggrandising reasons. Besides, two smart people with strongly opposed convictions generally don't change their minds as a result of argument.
posted by smorange at 11:29 AM on June 28, 2010

Dude, let this go.

You don't need to do EVERYTHING with your husband.

I compare this to him wanting to tag along while you have drinks with your gal pals; you don't have to do EVERYTHING together.

Also...at times, it seems as if you're baiting him to respond (ie "I think the administration is doing a BLANK job".) Just stop it; he's allowed to not talk to you about politics if he really really doesn't want to.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:37 PM on June 28, 2010

I almost asked this question myself. Mrs. W and I have the same issue. We generally agree not to talk about politics for the most part. We have been together for eighteen years.
posted by wittgenstein at 7:42 PM on June 28, 2010

What exactly is the problem? Break it down and look at solutions, for example:

a) You have deeply opposing ideologies which causes friction

Solution - Decide whether or not you can live with a mate who doesn't share your political views (tip: political difference is way down the list of reasons to DTMFA). If so, let it drop. If not, get divorced (what else are you going to do?)

b) You enjoy the differences and you want to explore them/engage in point-scoring political debate with SO but spouse won't play ball

Solution - Let go of desire to debate with current SO or leave and find new SO who wants to debate with you.

c) You are excited and energised by combative discourse and don't mind who it's with as long as they're willing

Solution - Seek out people who find it enjoyable rather than tedious, eg a local debate society, or political history class, and vent to your heart's content.

d) You have all the answers, but dammit the world, via your spouse, aint listening!

Solution - join activist group/political party, or take up less monumental past time.

In other words - this is your problem, not his. You can choose how to deal with it. Good luck!

posted by freya_lamb at 3:59 AM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I knew when I said it that he would not agree and that my statement was provocative,

What the hell? "I keep doing something my spouse hates in a deliberate and provocative way", and you think your spouse is the one with the problem?

Take a step back. This is what you're doing. Your husband is not the one with the problematic behaviour. You apparently view fighting about politics as an entertaining game. He doesn't, and wants you to go play that game elsewhere, and you refuse and bait him. This is not reasonable behaviour on your part.

You aren't treating him with any level of respect - winning not just the argument, but the meta-argument about whether your have the argument appears to be more important to you than your marriage.
posted by rodgerd at 5:12 AM on June 29, 2010


it makes me feel like if we can't figure out how to discuss politics in a healthy way, it can't be a good sign in other areas of eventual discord.

Discord in political beliefs is very different from discord between things that have a direct and immediate practical application to your day to day life. Politics is largely abstracted in that (short of running for office) you have limited control over the practical enforcement of your beliefs. Rational debate is one way of dealing with stuff you have an opinion on but little power to influence, but it's not that great a means of dealing with say, the desire to have/not have kids, or differing plans on saving for retirement etc. Those things are going to require consideration of your individual and joint needs through discussion that doesn't involve point-scoring.

His request that you don't endlessly hash out something that isn't productive to your relationship seems like a pretty healthy way of managing that particular discord. If, however, this is making him shy away from discussing anything you disagree on, that could be cause for concern. Just politics? I wouldn't worry.
posted by freya_lamb at 6:06 AM on June 29, 2010

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