Married to or Dating Someone With Different Political Views? Read Our Guide

According to a liberal therapist and her conservative husband.
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Esther Lee - Deputy Editor, The Knot
by
Esther Lee
Esther Lee - Deputy Editor, The Knot
Esther Lee
Deputy Editor
  • Esther is the Deputy Editor of The Knot. She currently leads all content on The Knot Wellness, focusing on financial, relationship, and mental wellbeing.
  • She oversees The Knot's travel vertical (honeymoons, destination weddings, bach parties), as well as overarching features and trends.
  • She proudly serves on the Advisory Council of VOW For Girls, focusing on ending the injustice of child marriage around the world.
Updated Apr 26, 2024
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Here we are again. It's an election year, which has a real knack for bringing politics into the conversation even if it wasn't a part of everyday life before. For many couples, that brings up challenges, especially if you're married to or dating someone with different political views. Given the divisive political climate in America, you might even be questioning whether you're a fit. According to Dr. Jeanne Safer, psychotherapist and author of I Love You, But I Hate Your Politics, political beliefs shouldn't be the primary focus in choosing a life partner, nor should it dominate your relationship.

"It's very important for people to expose themselves to those who disagree. It will expand your horizons," says Safer, who recently celebrated her 40th wedding anniversary with journalist Richard Brookhiser,—all while holding opposing political beliefs for decades. The pair first met ("and we call it a 'meet-cute,'" notes Safer) on a street corner of New York City as members of a singing group. "I said, 'I work for National Review,' [a conservative editorial magazine,] and she knew immediately I was conservative," recalls Brookhiser. Adds Safer, "We had something in common, but we did not have politics in common. Forty years is a long time to have political differences and it wasn't easy at first."

"I have to say: the reason really was mostly me," she continues. "I'm not an intensely political person, but the things I feel strongly about, I feel strongly about… I assumed that since I change minds for a living, I could change his. And it turned out he wasn't so amenable." Together, the couple talks through common dos and don'ts when building a constructive and respectful relationship, especially if your partner has different political views.

Find more information about voting and upcoming elections here, including how to update or change your registration details.

In this article:

Can a Liberal and a Conservative Be in a Relationship?

If you're dating someone with different political views, you might wonder: Can a liberal and a conservative be in a relationship? It's a complicated question, and there's not one definitive answer. Ultimately, couples with different political views must come to the conclusion on their own. If you feel like politics are ruining your relationship, it can be worthwhile to have a serious conversation about your values and goals. Or, you might consider seeking help from a licensed professional such as a couples therapist.

While it's important to insert critical topics like this into the conversation before you get married, it's normal to wonder how to cope when your partner has opposing views—which is why we've put together this guide for managing political differences.

How to Overcome Different Political Views in Your Relationship

Despite what you may think, marrying someone with different political views (and having a healthy, fulfilling relationship) is completely possible. In fact, political differences in a relationship aren't necessarily deal-breakers, particularly if you and your S.O. can communicate effectively, and come to a place of mutual respect and understanding. Here are Safer and Brookhiser's top do's and don'ts for overcoming political differences in your relationship.

Don't: Drink and Talk Politics

If you feel like politics are ruining your relationship, you might want to hold off from decanting the wine before launching into a spirited debate about political ideology. "This is actually one of my first rules," Safer notes. "'Don't drink when you have the conversation.' Most people do. They will start yelling, and when you start yelling, rational conversation ends. You raise your voice and it's over."

"We also weren't big drinkers, so we didn't drink and talk politics," notes Brookhiser. However, if your partner has different political views and you're accustomed to this habit, it's important to share political discussions, if necessary, while sober. Limit your discussions to, say, the great outdoors like golf or a brisk walk with your partner so that you can keep your emotions in check while engaging in a spirited discussion.

Do: Set Boundaries Around News Consumption

So your wife or husband is obsessed with politics… what now? If political identity is particularly abundant in your household, keep the information era of nonstop news cycles respectfully limited. This applies both ways, according to Safer.

"I had a couple, who after many years of marriage, came to me because they were ready to break up. They were thoughtful and cared about each other. They had gone through a lot of difficulties together," she says. "However, the husband became a conservative later in life. Even if you marry someone who has the same politics as you, it doesn't mean they're going to have it many years later… And they were ready for a divorce because in their big house, he was taping Fox News in the basement. The wife said, 'It comes through the air and pollutes the house.'"

Simply accept your partner's preferences in news outlets. "I said, 'You have to stop this, it's his house too. He has a right to listen to it, though he doesn't have the right to blast it. Get used to the fact that he's a different person than you, or you're going to lose your marriage,'" Safer recalls of the interaction. "You know what was amazing? They stopped." Marriage, Safer explains, is the coming together of two equals with different thoughts and perceptions of the world. The ability to see that, at its core, will help many couples respectfully move forward.

If your partner has different political views and prefers a certain network, there is a solution for that. "If the person wants to watch Fox News or Rachel Maddow, that's why God invented headphones. You have to allow that," Safer says. "For any couple, even if they have the same politics, you're going to have a lot of fundamental differences because you're a different person."

Finally, turn the news off at breakfast. "It may not be a good idea to have your favorite shoutfest at a meal," says Brookhiser. "That's also why God invented taping."

Don't: Article Thrust

Similar to limiting cable networks, consider the sources (op-eds, articles) you share with your partner, especially if your husband or wife has different political views. "Couples violate this to an unbelievable degree. Every couple who comes to see me, in fact," says Safer. "I name it 'article thrusting.' You take an article from your point of view, preferably over the breakfast table, and you stick it in the person's face… Yet, everybody does it. And it has to stop or don't start it."

Do: Approach Conversations Abstractly

Safer and Brookhiser suggest framing conversations first and foremost, from a place of genuine curiosity and respect for the other party's opinion. "We approach our conversations in the abstract if we want to talk about politics," says Safer. "For example, I say, 'What are you thinking?' Rick is a political analyst and that's his job, and I respect his political analysis."

Another way to frame this question is: I'd like to know what you think about this topic/person. It places a genuine curiosity in the other person's opinion and perhaps, the why. "Ask abstractly, 'How is so and so [politician] doing?' That doesn't make the recipient of the question responsible for the views of the candidate," Brookhiser says. "You can have a political conversation with somebody you disagree with and you can learn a lot from it."

Don't: Use Phrases That Allocate Blame

It's a rule of thumb to avoid approaching your partner's ideology from a place of wanting to change their thoughts. Those who lead into an argument with the incredulous phrase, "How can you possibly think?" are setting themselves up for an intense spiral."Forget it, you lose the person right there," says Safer, who provides suggestions for how to converse from a more open-minded point of view.

Just because your views are different doesn't mean that one of you is wrong. One partner shouldn't blame the other for having a different opinion.

Do: Defend Your Partner

As differences aren't commonly celebrated in our society, there may come a time when your partner's beliefs suddenly come under attack from others. If that's the case, you must rise to defend your S.O. Safer recalls a brusque interaction involving a colleague and her husband. The offender knew of Brookhiser's conservative beliefs and made several pointed comments that weren't so kind.

"I was going to let it roll off my back, but Jeanne cut him a new one," Brookhiser recalls. "I felt pleased and grateful and thought to myself, 'I married the right person.' She's a tough one."

"I said, 'I want you to apologize,'" she recalls. "Defend your person you love from attack from others. You cannot let somebody attack somebody that you love offensively… both inside and outside of the room."

Don't: Let Conspiracy Drive the Conversation

We're all familiar with the voter fraud claims that emerged from the 2020 Presidential Election bolstered by former President Donald Trump and his campaign organizers. As the rematch between Trump and current President Joe Biden ensues, you might find the same-old discussions about the controversy resurfacing. Conversations can quickly escalate and become muddled when it comes to divisive topics like this. Experts warn it's best not even to broach the topic or anything that lends itself to conspiracy over facts.

"I strongly believe that there is no way whatsoever," Safer emphasizes, "to have a rational conversation about voter fraud claims. At this point, even many Republicans are not accepting this. My advice is: avoid it like the plague."

If it continues to arise in conversations, be clear about moving on. "Tell your significant other that this is one of those topics that simply cannot be discussed between you," Safer advises. "Shut it down, and do not rise to the bait."

Do: Know When to Talk to a Professional

If you're clashing all the time over your political differences and it's affecting your relationship, it might be time to ask for help. Ultimately, you want to change how you view and interact with your partner rather than your (or their) political opinion. Remember that while each of you is entitled to your views, you're also entitled to a relationship where you feel seen and accepted for who you are. Luckily, there are a few avenues you can take to reach a conflict resolution.

Taking the helpful "do's" and "don'ts" on this list on board is an excellent starting point. If you're still finding it difficult to put politics aside, we recommend reaching out to a professional for help. Nowadays, finding a great couples therapy or counseling service is easier than ever. Between in-person and online couples therapists, you're bound to find someone who feels like a good fit.

Don't: Intend to Change Your Partner's Mind

Having a conversation is different from convincing your partner, notes Safer. "There are two different levels of what we ought to know: one is how to conduct a conversation so it doesn't turn into a fight. The most important thing that allows that to happen is a shift of mind. Most people go in feeling desperately or passionately that we should change their partner's mind to make them agree with us. And that's the purpose of the conversation," she explains. "Forget this immediately and you'll save your marriage. Continue to do it and you'll end up either with a divorce or coming to see me."

Respect your partner's opinion—and the political differences you may share. Again, it's about framing the conversation not with the intent to change your partner's mind, but to respect their thoughts first.

Do: Find Commonality Beyond Politics

If you're dating outside of your political party or your partner has different political views, that's OK. Life is full of rewarding hobbies and opportunities, and common values and beliefs provide a stronger foundation over any politics, which shouldn't be considered the end-all in a relationship.

"Something I find troubling is a lot of people won't even consider going out with somebody who has different political views," says Safer. "It's very good we didn't have dating apps for Republicans and Democrats decades ago, because I wouldn't have met this man. I would've met him in the singing group, but it would've been a lot harder. People are missing a lot of things. You learn a lot from another person, especially if it's a smart person. We learn from each other in a lot of ways, not politically, but in other ways."

"There's a lot to a person in addition to their politics," explains Brookhiser. "If you're in love or going out with a person who questions [multiple scenarios], but if that person is rude or hostile to people they meet, that's a different thing and maybe you should think twice. If people realize there are many other dimensions to life in addition to politics, people are considered as wholes, big biographies, then that's a good frame of mind that allows you to live with other people, more than your own reflection in the mirror."

Don't: Overlook What Matters Most

Emphasizing the "real" in relationships is yet another area of growth for many couples. Below, Safer and Brookhiser list questions couples should work through—preceding politics.

Do you respect the other person?

Do you feel the other person will stay with you through all the things in life?

Do you feel the person will take care of you through all the things that are guaranteed to happen in life?

Do you feel the person will help you through life?

Do you feel the person will allow you to disagree in a way that doesn't destroy the relationship?

Do you trust the other person?

"Trust is the overarching thing," notes Brookhiser. "In a long marriage, you go through so much together and political agreement isn't the biggest one. It's how a person treats you, how they admire and help you, how they're proud of you, how they don't compete or fight with you in hostile ways, that's what counts."

The couple, despite having different political beliefs, has remained committed to each other "in sickness and in health," as vows so state. "This is our criteria for what makes a difference in a relationship, and Rick has named it a chemotherapy test. We have both had cancer. What we came up with was, 'You don't ask political affiliation when you're in bed getting chemotherapy,'" says Safer. "You don't ask the political affiliation of the person who is standing loyally by you getting you through it… That's what counts. If somebody cares for you and helps you, [that's what matters]. There are lots of people who agree with you who won't do it, and I can attest to that."

Do: Agree to Disagree

Without differences in backgrounds and beliefs, very little growth can happen individually and in a great community. "Lately, people won't [date] anybody who disagrees. They don't realize there are plenty of people who agree with you who would make a lousy husband or wife," explains Safer.

"Sometimes, the people who disagree with you turn out to be good people, and there are those who agree with you exactly, who turn out to be s--ts," Brookhiser adds. "There are lots of those in the world. Ponder that and think about that. Agreement in the voting booth on Election Day doesn't mean you're going to like or trust or respect the person the other 364 days of the year."

"I spend a lot of time with people I disagree with and I've learned to talk to them and respect them," Safer concludes. "You find a way to do it, and I've been grateful to have a wider perspective. It may not have changed my mind, but it's changed my spirit."

For more, pick up a copy of I Love You, But I Hate Your Politics by Jeanne Safer, who documents, in detail, her marriage and four decades of political disagreements with her husband, Richard Brookheiser.

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