What hope is there for a marriage where there are political problems
June 19, 2015 8:47 PM   Subscribe

What is the best hope (or is there any) for a marriage where extreme political disagreements have cropped up?

I fully admit I am the only one who has changed. If anything I radicalized my husband to very far left positions regarding gender, race, etc. Now we are growing older, and after many many years of marriage later, I am growing more moderate and mellowing with age- him not at all.

My husband is a very logical and rational person(thinking not feeling, always) who I argued with using extreme (but what we both thought were logically sound at the time) reasons. Growing older, I've realized that I cannot or will not accept what the ultimate conclusions of the positions I once advocated. The problem is I don't even necessarily have logical reasons for my shift in beliefs, they've just mellowed with age and time and experience. I can't explain (nor do I want to argue about with him) why I think differently now.

He doesn't really admire the person I've become like he did the old me. The new me is very apoliticial and prefers to just focus on my own quiet life.

Is it time for a divorce? Besides counselling, are there any other suggestions or hope for a couple that has come to this place?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Are you seeking permission? Because this is 100% unanswerable from our end.

What has he said when you talked to him about these feelings?
posted by cmoj at 8:58 PM on June 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

Can you just not discuss politics?
posted by sweetkid at 9:13 PM on June 19, 2015 [6 favorites]

The "doesn't really admire" bit - are you sure? I'd ask.

I have a happy marriage with profound political differences, but we enjoy (mostly) talking about them and discussing the issues of the day. Though we have profoundly different political parties, we have the same core values which helps even though our ideas for resolving them frequently differ. We come at it from a position of mutual love and respect.
posted by arnicae at 9:16 PM on June 19, 2015

Whatever your differences, they can NOT be greater than that of James Carville & Mary Matalin.

But the fact that you bring this question up as a "is there any hope for this marriage", rather than a "how can we resolve this problem" makes me think you want out.

Besides counselling, are there any other suggestions or hope for a couple that has come to this place?

Do the counseling. You will get more feedback from a person who can assess whats going on in your relationship. Its way better than random internetters trying to give you life advice after reading 10 lines from you.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:24 PM on June 19, 2015 [10 favorites]

I suspect a fairly large percentage of people agree not to talk about certain things with their partners. As an example, my wife and I avoid the details when talking about our work, keeping it at a very high level--enough to say "yay!" or "boo!" about the impact things have had on us but leaving out all the stuff that's essentially the work itself. The problem is that our jobs are much, much, much too similar, we both think about our own work a lot, we're both handling the work per se just fine, and neither of us wants to hear about the same kinds of problems all day and then all night too. What we need to know is a good thing happened so let's celebrate or a bad thing happened so let's do something to take our minds off of it. I can imagine a similar agreement being helpful in this case. If you're apolitical, perhaps you can be happy or sad for your husband, as appropriate, if he could agree not to expound on the details of a political issue.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 10:21 PM on June 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

The question is - if neither one of you changes - he is still committed to radical politics, you are mellow and don't want to talk about it - what is left in your relationship. Do you each still respect the other? Do you care about each other? If you aren't sure, do you want to?

If the relationship is sound at the base, you can work out the rest - especially with help from a couple's therapist.

You don't mention children - if you don't have any, then you are really free to whatever feels right to you. If you do have kids, the decision is more complicated but you start in the same place - understanding what you have.

I'll recommend a book that I found here: Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay
posted by metahawk at 10:34 PM on June 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Can the two of you live and let live with your political differences? Because if Carville and Matalin can.... really, I think it just boils down to, can the two of you accept your differences and go on with life.

I was expecting this to be something like, "I'm pro choice and he's pro life and we're in a heterosexual relationship," which is probably the one area where politics really does trump the rest of the relationship if your birth control fails and you don't agree. But...I dunno, as you've recounted it here, it doesn't sound that bad. Does he work in politics or something?
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:41 PM on June 19, 2015

Totally not a dealbreaker. Just nod and smile and make vague noises when he brings it up. No need to actively disagree. Tell him you're just putting more energy into new hobby x these days, and don't have time to stay informed like you once did, or something.

I mean, it doesn't sound like you really completely disagree or hold opposing opinions, just that you aren't as into politics or advocacy/activism as you once were. That's more of a hobby thing than an ideological clash anyway. And it's totally possible to have different hobbies and interests and still have a relationship work well.
posted by quincunx at 11:00 PM on June 19, 2015

Are you sure this is about politics and not feeling respected? My wife and I have some political differences on things, but we don't spend a lot of time on them. Even if we moved further to either end of the spectrum, I think it would make for some interesting theoretical discussions in the relationship, but it wouldn't play out very practically very often, as I'm not sure politics is essential to true intimacy and closeness and cooperation to make a relationship work. Unless, of course, there are beliefs held that create actual contempt from the other, and that is usually the one key indicator stated that marriages are in trouble.

There's so much going on in our marriage most of the time that I'd have to double check with my wife on how she actually feels about some issues, and we've both changed our minds on things over time. The difference might be if you are in a relationship where talking about these things while also being on the same page has regularly defined in part your identity with each other, but it seems an odd thing to insist on, as isn't dialogue about challenging ideas on some level? But no, I wouldn't leave my wife, even if she was so politically different than me that we didn't agree even on what some think to be essentials. Because it's possible to love people who have "messed up" beliefs on some things, because deep down, I think we all do. But they all might not be political.
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:04 PM on June 19, 2015 [5 favorites]

I don't understand why there wouldn't be hope.

Just as he grew more radical, just as you grew more mellow, both of you are continuing to change. If your paths diverge a bit now, I don't see exactly why it's a problem that means the relationship must end now. (I'm not saying there couldn't be a reason, just that based on what you said, i don't get it.)

Couldn't you just hang in there by focusing on whatever is at the core of your relationship, like mutual fondness and respect? Sure, you're reading different books, but you're lying side by side in bed as you do it -- that sort of thing?

I'm sorry, it sounds like you're in a tough spot, I don't want to pretend it should be easy. Best wishes.
posted by salvia at 11:44 PM on June 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

Yesterday's "radical" -- equal rights regardless of thing like sex and race and religion, fair and safe working conditions for all, the necessity of care for the environment, activism to gain political goals, etc. -- is today's normal and expected. Perhaps your husband is living just a bit more in the future than you are, while you are slowing down and dropping anchor?

You can still be the partners you have always been in bed, at meals, out on walks, watching television, etc. Just agree not to talk about politics. Encourage him to go online or down the pub when he needs to vent about the political. Something along the lines of "Save that for your pals [on website or down at the pub]. I'm going out to the garden to relax quietly." but said as spouse to spouse and friend to friend, not as adversary to adversary, could work. You can encourage him and respect him for having strong political convictions, without necessarily agreeing or participating with him politically.

But I think this would have been obvious to you if you weren't also unsatisfied with your marriage in other ways. Divorce is for when you don't love each other anymore and maybe some awful things are happening at home, not for when you pull different levers in the voting booth.
posted by pracowity at 1:02 AM on June 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

I can't tell if you guys are actively arguing with each other about your differences.. or if you just lost something you used to talk a lot about. If you're arguing, then I would suggest counseling. If conversation has just become boring then I suggest finding a new common interest you're both passionate about.

Either way, you seem unhappy. That's always a reason to talk to your partner.
posted by blackzinfandel at 1:33 AM on June 20, 2015

My husband accepted and embraced my politics and now we are both political, we agree on some things and disagree on others. What we do agree on is that the great work of social justice is a higher power than either of us, and we both serve it. Discord between us on political issues is framed in a common context. If your relationship shares enough common context is fine, but if your partner is called on to serve a political cause it may be that the two of you are no longer compatible.
posted by Mistress at 3:49 AM on June 20, 2015

You say your husband "doesn't admire" who you are - that's a red flag in a way that him merely not agreeing with your political stance is. Contempt is one of the four horsemen of the marriage apocalypse - According to John Gottman, Ph.D., “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” are behaviors that, if they occur regularly, are very good predictors of either a failed or a terminally unhappy relationship. If you discover that any of these occur often in your relationship, you and your partner are most likely heading for trouble.

Are you happy in your marriage? Does your husband generally treat you well? Have the two of you been to counseling? I second the recommendation for Too Good To Leave, Too Bad To Stay.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 4:43 AM on June 20, 2015 [7 favorites]

Came in to say what SpacemanStix and Rosie M. Banks said -- the problem isn't the politics, it's how he's treating you. If you were both passionate about hiking, but you just didn't feel like going out and conquering a new mountain every single weekend, and he didn't really admire you anymore because of that, then you wouldn't say that hiking is the problem.

Tell him how you feel, both about the politics and (more importantly) about how his reaction to your mellowing makes you feel. If he can't accept that, then the two of you should look into counseling.
posted by Etrigan at 5:02 AM on June 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

I'm a Functional Libertarian; my wife always votes Green Party.
We have a passing interest in politics, and whenever we discuss, we do just that: discuss.
We don't try to make the other one change their mind.
We don't call the other person crazy, stupid or naive for believing what they believe.
We don't hold on tight to our political beliefs like carrying children from a fire.

Everyone has beliefs and opinions.

As my grandma would say, "Opinions are like assholes - everyone has one, and they all stink."

Your situation has nothing to do with politics. It has to do with respect.
He doesn't respect the fact that your beliefs and opinions have changed.
He doesn't seem to want to ALLOW you to have those beliefs and opinions.

It seems very "my way or the highway" when it comes to this.

Is it a dealbreaker?

Only YOU know the answer to that question, and you probably already know it, you're just coming to the Internet for permission or rationalization.

Find it in this thread and go for it.
I wish you both peace.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 5:05 AM on June 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

People who allow politics to dominate their personal or business relationships are pretty much chumps. Educate your husband that the most influential or visibly successful political people all have robust relationships "across the aisle," while the people who put politics above all else to shout at the barricades are figurative (or sometimes literal) cannon fodder.
posted by MattD at 6:35 AM on June 20, 2015

I work with many couples who have different politics, and this is the best advice-by-proxy I can give you: avoid discussions where politics will crop up.
To the extent that this is unavoidable, I'd really recommend Johnathon Haidt's The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. There is a good account of how liberals and conservatives truly think differently (and it's pulled off without the premise that either side is "wrong"). It can also serve as a sort of toolbox for now to engage someone who has different beliefs without the self-serving tactic of claiming the moral high ground. Haidt reasons, "We are all self-serving hypocrites." He's right.
posted by Mr. Fig at 9:55 AM on June 20, 2015

For what it's worth, I've done telephone canvassing in national elections, and households where couples support opposing parties but don't show any rancor about it are pretty common.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:09 PM on June 20, 2015

The issue to me seems not to be with your differing beliefs or political apathy at this time, but with how he grills you on why you feel the way you do. There are two sides to every story so maybe it's not all him, but this seems to be more of a communication question and counseling is in order to find a way to either have respectful discussions about these topics or just agree to disagree. It's about the relationship, not the specific politics. We all change our views over the course of our lives, and to expect someone to remain unchanged by their experiences over the decades is unrealistic. I don't know why he's harping on you about this when you seem to be fine with letting it go. There are definitely groups he can join if he wants to talk to others who share his views.
posted by Pearl928 at 10:57 PM on June 20, 2015

I can identify with being in the situation where someone you care about who used to hold strong views no longer seems to hold those views, where those views were once part of what I loved about that person.

At times the change has stirred the beginnings of what felt uncomfortably like a contemptuous response in my mind. What has helped is continually pointing out to myself the things that this person still does care passionately about. Your mileage may vary, but I have found that I very much value relationships with people who hold strong values - they don't have to mirror my own, but they do have to exist and be worth fighting for. Perhaps if you were able to demonstrate to your husband that you have new issues that you care very much about, that would help him get past his current hangup on your apolitical stance. I'm assuming here that you haven't stopped caring about everything, since you worded it as a 'shift in focus' rather than a loss of focus entirely.

If he can't love you anymore unless you resume your revolutionary ways, I think counseling is of course worth a shot, but it seems rather narrow minded of him. After all, if he truly is a left wing extremist, surely there are very few other people around him (family, friends) whose politics truly align with his.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 5:31 PM on June 21, 2015

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