Let’s face it: The age of Trump has led to strange new fighting.
Whether you love or loathe him, you know that chaos follows closely behind him. More than one out of 10 Americans have ended relationships due to political clashes specifically tied to Trump, according to Wakefield Research’s survey titled “The Trump Effect on American Relationships.”
That includes marriage. Faith Miller, Esq., CFL, an attorney specializing in Divorce and Family Law in New York, has seen this first-hand. “I’ve seen an uptick in divorce since Trump got elected,” she notes. Indeed, Trump’s polarizing Presidency has been a catalyst for “unprecedented fighting in marriage,” she adds. Trump has brought new meaning to the adage that partners can change after marriage. “Many couples say they don’t know who their spouse is anymore,” adds Faith. Shared values are destroyed. Rage simmers. Couples can feel like their partner is on a different planet. “It’s just different now. It’s not about embracing the Republican party through Trump. It’s Trumpism that shapes perspectives and becomes a way of life–and then becomes untenable for the partner on the other side of the divide,” she says.
For many couples, a difference in politics can lead to a breakdown in the relationship — and even divorce
Indeed, a recent study by political science researchers at four universities found that people are now “dehumanizing” the political opposition in a way they didn’t used to. Even politically mixed couples can think of their partner as less evolved in their way of thinking.
Many of the divorcing couples Faith sees never would have predicted politics could take down their marriage. “Couples who were never political before now talk of little else–not in a good way–or they hardly talk at all. Couples who believed ‘opposites attract’ in political difference now feel like they’re sleeping with the enemy. Couples who are both Republicans can’t stand each other when one is a Trumper and the other is a Lincoln Project – or “Never Trump” – Republican,” she says.
The Trump effect on relationships
To break it down a bit more, here are a few ways couples report that Trump is tearing them apart:
· Hot-button issues like immigration, sexual harassment (Brett Kavanaugh confirmation), and abortion (Amy Coney Barrett) can expose fault lines in a marriage, especially when the issue feels like a personal affront. Women who were sexually abused earlier in life can become bitter with an unsupportive spouse; mixed marriages can suffer; women can see misogyny in a spouse—and emotional abuse can turn into physical abuse.
· Couples naturally expect to grow together and use marriage as a platform for achieving their highest selves. When political activism becomes part of that growth process, marriage can fray either because the activism is polarized or because one partner becomes “woke” (and even obsessed with newfound activism), while the other remains uninterested. Climate change, feminism, and BLM movement have energized many people, but some marriages collapse when couples aren’t on the same page.
· Couples with communication and anger management issues can suffer if their fights over politics become chronic and corrosive. Contempt plays a big role in arguments these days and is particularly toxic to marriage, according to marriage researcher John Gottman, Ph.D., Co-founder of the Gottman Institute. Eye-rolling, name-calling, being dismissive and disrespectful are all signs of contempt. Trump himself expresses contempt, and can embolden people with that tendency.
Regardless of the outcome of this election, couples can try to avoid the “Trump effect” through genuine effort. A “this too shall pass” philosophy can help: A study published by the Institute for American Values found that three out of four unhappily married couples were happy together five years later. But “only you know your heart and whether your marriage has the potential to promote your happiness. Consult with me if you’re struggling and deeply unhappy,” says Faith.
Can a strained marriage overcome political differences?
That depends on the couple. Here are strategies requiring genuine effort that can improve a marriage threatened by politics or another serious issue. Strategies and insight are provided by psychologists, including Dr. Gottman, psychologist Shelley Galasso Bonanno, MA, marriage and family therapist Stacy Hubbard, and psychotherapist Jeanne Safer, Ph.D.
· Learn to fight fairly. Try to make it feel safe to disagree. Don’t stoop to labels and vitriol common these days. Avoid political talk when you can; try to understand the other side; turn off the TV; avoid the moral high ground; and resist the urge to convert your partner to your point of view. Now more than ever, this motto can help: “It’s more important to be kind than to be right.”
· Be a good listener. This includes staying silent and really “hearing” your partner’s message and feelings behind it. Try mirroring, or re-stating, what your partner says. This can show you’ve heard and you want to identify your partner’s needs.
· Ask open-ended questions, like “Why is this important to you?” This can spark a deeper discussion that strengthens your bond.
· Set boundaries. Don’t fight at dinner or spring issues on each other when coming through the door, absorbed in a task, or in the bedroom.
· Seek out shared values. While you may not agree on candidates, you may see eye-to-eye on religion or social justice issues and can build on this.
· Ask about dreams and goals. Exploring how a partner strives for the highest version of himself or herself can break new ground in a marriage—it can lead to new sensitivity rather than gripe-driven sabotage. It can also become a way to celebrate differences for couples challenged by the process of connecting “me” and “us.”
· Ask about the role politics played in your partner’s family of origin. This can bring new insights that lead to greater understanding. It can even trigger an emotional watershed that can help fix the seeming unfixable in your marriage.
· Listen to those who’ve walked your path. Psychotherapist Jeanne Safer has a book and podcast called I Love You, But I Hate Your Politics based on her 40 years of a politically mixed marriage. She offers loads of suggestions, including “don’t share information from the web, unless your partner asks you to; seek out serious rational voices from the other side; and try not to rub it in your partner’s face when your side scores a victory.”
Also, an app called Wisdo allows people to learn from others who’ve “been there”—including marriages tested by politics.