Your Guide to ~Respectfully~ Debating Politics With Your Romantic Partner

Hello, and welcome to a guide written specifically for those of you who are one argument away from Googling “How to murder my partner before the election.” First, let me advise you to A) not Google that, B) not murder your partner, and C) understand this isn’t just a you-problem.

Sure, it may be happening in your relationship specifically , but political arguments are ev-er-y-where right now—Facebook, IRL, on legit debate stages—and involve everyone, from your aunt Marcy to that rando at Walmart. Things are getting deeply personal, and there’s a lot to argue about. It really goes so much further than debating about which candidate is better suited for the presidency.

We’re voting for policy makers who will advise on tax cuts, the student debt crisis, LGBTQ+ rights, minority injustices, immigration policy, and pro-choice policies, and we’re also in the midst of a global pandemic and economic downturn. The people elected will play a huge role in how COVID-19 is handled moving forward.

Maybe you and your partner disagree about the idea of a protest vote. Maybe you disagree about whether or not a vote actually matters. Maybe you’ve been arguing about fiscal, humanitarian, or even environmental issues.

But disagreeing doesn’t necessarily have to be a deal breaker.

“Couples often fear differences in opinion reflect unresolvable conflict or incompatibility, when it can actually inspire relationship growth. It is an opportunity to develop empathy, understanding, and conversation around sensitive topics for a stronger bond,” says psychotherapist Imani Movva. “But difficult, yet respectful conversations can lead to deeper understanding of perceptions, personal experiences, traumas, family, culture, religious values, morals, etc., which have shaped a partner’s beliefs and perceptions.”

So let me help you navigate this weird time of arguments, silent treatments, and “literally don’t talk to me anymore :)” texts. We’ve tapped mental health experts to advise on how to respectfully disagree with your partner when it comes to political issues—and at what point your divisions become actual deal breakers.

Some general tips to keep in mind before discussing a political issue with your partner:

Here are four specific statements you can use when debating with your partner:

(You may want to jot down these Movva-approved ideas in your Notes tab for easy access, btw.)

And here are statements Movva recommends for talking about very specific topics:

What to say if you disagree about human rights issues (such as LGBTQ+ rights, abortion access, etc.):

“I would love to understand what experiences have led you to have such strong beliefs.”

What to say if you disagree about the importance of voting:

“I always felt we were aligned on _____, so I am a bit taken back by your stance on protest voting/whether voting is important. Could you help me understand _____.”

What to say if you disagree about the new Supreme Court Justice:

The appointing of the new Supreme Court justice prior to the election does not seem to upset you the way it is upsetting me [or “seems to upset you more than it is upsetting me”], am I perceiving this correctly?”

What to say if you disagree about fiscal issues (such as tax cuts, minimum wage, student debt, etc.):

“I am surprised by your stance on _____ considering how caring you are. Would you be open to talking about what shaped the way you prioritize these issues?”

What to say if you disagree about environmental issues (such as fracking, global warming, etc.):

“I felt very frustrated by your comments about environmental issues, as you know how important _______ is to me. I understand you may not find ______ as important, but I would appreciate it if you had a bit more respect/sensitivity for something I am passionate about.”

What to say if you disagree about how the government is handling the COVID-19 pandemic:

“I know we have different views on how the government should deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, but let’s focus on what we agree on to ensure supporting each other feeling safe to our best abilities.”

When political debates become deal-breakers

Good news: You can disagree respectfully without it harming your relationship because, yup, “you can validate someone’s emotion without agreeing with their beliefs,” says Montgomery. But depending on the larger implications of some of these issues and their importance to you, it could become a little more complicated.

“For example, once you are wanting to restrict someone else’s rights around their bodies because of your own personal beliefs, common ground can be harder to find,” says Montgomery. “You can certainly still use the principles discussed above, but if you and your partner disagree here, it may be less about balancing principles and values, and more about having very different values from each other.”

She confirms: “This is likely more indicative of something that would make a long term relationship challenging.”

It might be helpful to identify your non-negotiables prior to your conversation. Decide if a certain opposing viewpoint—such as one about equal rights or abortion access—is more important than the relationship itself, says Movva.

The path to staying together through Nov. 3 and beyond

If the issues you disagree on aren’t, in fact, deal-breakers for you, the absolute key to moving forward is finding some common ground within a disagreement. “You must believe this person you care about has a very good reason for their stance,” says Montgomery.

And as an active listener to your partner, “your challenge is to deeply understand, acknowledge, and validate their principle and underlying emotion. You must also effectively communicate your core principle and underlying worry or fear,” she says.

“Try to come to a shared understanding,” Montgomery confirms. Because shared understandings = an even stronger bond in your relationship.

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