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Love and Politics

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

7 Tips for Healthy Political Talk continued...

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.

Spinning Your Wheels

Besides causing tension, trying to change the mind of a staunch Democrat or Republican is probably fruitless. That's the view of Emory University psychologist Drew Westen, PhD, author of The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans, Westen and his colleagues found the political arena is highly emotional for strong partisans.

"The data from our own brain scanning study suggest that you can't reason with a strong partisan from the right or left, because the reasoning circuits just don't turn on," Westen tells WebMD. "You're unlikely to do anything but reinforce their view." People closer to the political center are more open to alternate views, he adds.

So is there ever hope of changing a partner's political stance? "It's worth the conversation," Westen says, if your partner is between the ages of 18 and 30 and does not come from a strong partisan family. "There's a window in young adulthood when people are open to change, particularly when major events or inspiring political figures come along."

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Reviewed on February 01, 2008

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