Love and politics are both known to fuel strong emotions, especially when they clash. Alexander Hoffman has been tangling with his wife over the presidential primaries -- even though they're both Democrats. He's backing Hillary Clinton, his wife prefers Barack Obama -- and their political differences have been the source of endless debate.
"We have a Tivo, and we watch the debates and Meet the Press," says Hoffman, a graduate student at Columbia University. "We pause what we're watching, discuss, argue, and move on -- then pause it again 30 seconds later. Have voices ever been raised? Yes."
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A happily married woman told me recently that she has a secret way of recapturing the feeling of being in love that she had as a young bride. When she and her husband go out to dinner, she'll watch how other people — a waitress, a friend they're out with that night, an acquaintance who stops by their table — are responding...
His wife, Devjani, is an attorney. "The discussion can become a little heated when one of us feels the other isn't fully listening," she tells WebMD. "There is a strong desire to win the argument, and that can amp up the stress level."
The Importance of Political Differences
Political differences don't necessarily hurt a relationship, says Susan Heitler, PhD, a clinical psychologist and author of The Power of Two: Secrets of a Strong & Loving Marriage. "It depends on how strong the relationship is to begin with. If you put political differences into an already undernourished partnership, the strain can be big."
In contrast, she tells WebMD, couples with good communications skills may find it enriching to discuss their differences.
"What's important is not the actual differences between people, but how the differences are handled," says Howard Markman, PhD, author of Fighting for Your Marriage and director of the Center of Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver. "If they handle [political talk] well, it can be a great source of intimacy and connection."
This holds true even when spouses belong to different political parties. Ryan Turner, a marketing director in Lighthouse Point, Fla., is a Republican. His wife, Heather, is a Democrat. Rather than fueling conflict, their differences are a source of lively conversation. "Political talk within the family structure works well for us," Turner tells WebMD. "It allows for a broader discussion than, 'How did your day go?'"
When Political Talk Sours: 5 Warning Signs
Not all couples manage their political differences gracefully. According to Heitler and Markman, political talk could be damaging your relationship if you notice these red flags: