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Love and Politics

Are political differences hurting your relationships? Learn to talk politics without pushing away the ones you love.

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:

1. Lack of Respect
When talking politics, you call each other names, roll your eyes, or make disparaging remarks.

2. Antagonistic Feelings
You begin to see your partner as an antagonist, rather than a teammate. You look for holes in your partner's arguments instead of trying to see his or her perspective.

3. Overuse of "But ..."
"'But' is a big eraser," Heitler explains. "It erases what was said before. If you're deleting what your partner says, that's problematic." 

4. Withdrawal
One of you withdraws or leaves the room whenever politics comes up.

5. Tension
Tension creeps into your everyday conversations and activities, even when you're not talking politics.

If these signs occur often, it could indicate troubles that run deeper than political differences. In this case, changing the subject is only a quick fix. Instead, couples should take a class or get counseling to enhance their communications skills, says Markman, who offers "Love Your Relationship" retreats.

7 Tips for Healthy Political Talk

Returning to the Hoffmans, Devjani says their "heated" talks aren't harmful for one important reason: "We genuinely care about each other's opinion and respect each other intellectually."  Markman and Heitler agree this is the key to healthy political discussions. To maintain respect amid strong political differences, they recommend a few ground rules:

1. Aim to Share Ideas, Not to Change Minds
The goal of political discussions should be to comprehend each other's thinking, not to change each other's minds, Markman says. "Try to put yourself in your partner's shoes and really understand where they're coming from."

2. Learn to Listen
Make sure your discussions aren't one-sided. Give your partner a chance to speak and try to learn something. Acknowledge that you understand his or her point even if you don't agree.

3. Focus on Common Concerns
Shared concerns can provide a sense of solidarity, even in "mixed marriages." "We all want fundamentally the same thing," says Kimberly Messer, a homemaker in Gulf Breeze, Fla. She's a Democrat, and her husband, Wilbert, is a Republican, yet both want "a strong economy, good jobs, great schools, security -- basically, a country we can feel good about."

4. Avoid Arguing to Win
Don't let your discussions become contests. If every argument has a winner and loser, Heitler says, the dialogue becomes demoralizing for at least one of you.

5. Keep Emotions at Bay
"Keep the emotional intensity in the quiet zone," Heitler advises. Calling your partner or her favorite candidate names will only fuel resentment. 

6. Take a Time Out
When political talk leads to verbal abuse, Markman recommends utilizing a "Stop Action" -- a sort of "Time Out" for grown-ups. Stop the argument by changing the subject or getting a drink of water, and come back to the topic later when you both feel calmer. 

7."It's Your Relationship, Stupid"
While politics may be important to you, Heitler and Markman agree your family life should come first. Try to balance out political arguments with other activities you enjoy together, including plenty of physical affection. 

Couples who can't stick to these ground rules may be better off avoiding political talk -- for now.  But in the long run, Markman says, the health of the relationship depends on learning to discuss differences with respect.

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