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What Role Does Politics Play In Your Relationship?

In these dark political times

Every couple has different foundational things that their relationship is built on. For some people it’s shared hobbies; for some it’s shared religious beliefs; for some it’s shared backgrounds. And in my particular relationship, one of those fundamentals is politics. It’s not just a shared political viewpoint (though we generally have that). It’s also a shared passion for the nitty-gritty of politics, daily reading and debating of the New York Times, and a shared sense of activism. (Fun fact: APW is called A Practical Wedding because when I started it, my husband had a very short-lived Democratic Policy blog called Practical Progress.)

That shared political engagement has been at the core of our relationship for the last fourteen years, and it has gotten us through many a “oh-my-God-I’m-so-tired-I-don’t-even-know-what-to-say” date night. And it’s not luck that I got a politically motivated partner. It is a fundamental reason why I picked him, because lack of passionate political involvement was a deal breaker for me. (I mean, I used to troll for dates at the founding chapter of Drinking Liberally, for goodness’ sake. David did too, but that’s another story for another time.)

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But in these politically dark times, I’m particularly glad for not just our generally shared political views, but also our shared sense of activism. There is never a debate when I announce that I donated a wild and spontaneous amount of money to the ACLU, and he’s been known to cut checks to the DNC out of his pocket money, perhaps because they literally will not stop calling. When a march is happening, I don’t have to exert extra effort to get David motivated. I just put the date on the calendar, buy poster board, write our phone numbers on the kids’ arms, and we’re out the door.

And when a political argument does break out in our house, it’s specific and detailed. Cue last month’s overtired argument where after watching Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s brilliant political ad, David grumpily announced, “I think you’re just more liberal than I am,” over the corporate donations line. And after I (exhaustedly) yelled, “How dare you? Get your shit together!” I then recommended three separate specific podcast episodes that I wanted to listen to about the necessary radicalization of those of us who are fundamentally institutionalists, driven by the profound irresponsibility of Republican leadership. Then a few days later launched into an exhaustively detailed discussion about the policy merits of  “Abolish Ice,” along with the pros and cons of using that in a political slogan in the current political environment. You know, just another week in our household.

But I know that not all couples relate to politics the same way, and some people even manage to co-exist in the Trump era with opposing political viewpoints. (Though how that works remains a total mystery to me, the person who stalked out of a room over a disagreement on the details of the progressive policy platform.) Because while we’ve talked about how complicated different religious beliefs can be in a relationship, different political beliefs can speak to a similar schism in worldview and moral structure.

And while we have nobody on staff in a relationship with oppositional political views (“I’ll kick you in the balls in front of everyone at this polling place if you don’t vote for Hillary because you don’t feel passionate about her” was as close as we got), not everyone relates to politics the same obsessive way that David and I do.

Here are thoughts from the team:

I never thought I’d say this because I am endlessly appalled that my husband has never voted in an election, but at the end of the day I think how we “do” politics balances each other out incredibly well. I’ve always been pretty neutral about politics, but now that the lines between politics and human rights have started blurring, I, like many others, have gotten much more involved. That said, I’m one of those highly sensitive people who has to avoid Twitter and the news media in order to avoid being on anti-anxiety medications, while my husband has gone from completely head-in-the-sand to always in-the-know. So basically, he keeps me abreast of the (endless) news, and then I make the donations, send the faxes, and go to the marches. (And I may just have to handcuff myself to him to get him to a polling place this fall.)

Keriann, Director of Brand Partnerships

My husband and I are fairly aligned politically, though our families’ political affiliations are very different from each other. Maybe that’s one of the reasons that our ways of dealing with the politics of the moment are also different. He has always taken a devil’s advocate approach to political conversations, which he continues to do. I’ve become much more demonstrative by going to protests, calling representatives, donating (our) money to causes we support, and posting to social media. He is totally game for doing these things when I ask him directly (other than the social media—I haven’t asked him to do that), but he’s not really motivated to initiate the active action I feel is necessary. It’s frustrating sometimes, but honestly, it’s how we approach so many things in our marriage. We agree on something, I make the plan, we both execute. In less turbulent times, we listen to Morning Edition while commuting and have great conversations. Lately, it’s been a little too hard to start the day that way.

Kate Bolen, Senior Editor

Before the most recent election, politics were openly discussed in our house. After the election, it was pure shock—and silence. It might have just been us coping with the current state of affairs. We’re worn down from the current news cycle, but at least the conversation has started again.

Chelsea Hanepen, Studio Coordinator

I always thought of myself as relatively apolitical due to my lack of interest in the nitty-gritty of policy. So it wasn’t until recently that it occurred to me I’ve been political my whole life. (I staged my first protest over a sexist dress code in middle school.) My politics just happen to be of a broader scope, and I still don’t really get fired up over policy or process. (I’m trying?) But suffice to say, Michael knew what he was getting into when he met me.

That said, we both come from families where it is not polite to talk about politics, and I’ve always pushed that boundary with the people close to me, including my partner. I am definitely married to a “I’d rather not think about this because it makes me uncomfortable” straight white dude, and a big part of the conversation in our house is confronting the privilege of that viewpoint. I used to get really frustrated with the state of things in our household. But I’m burned out on the kind of conversations where I yell and scream because he refuses to see reason, and then storm off to cry and be sad about how my husband is being ignorant. Instead, I’m trying to see the long game.

I don’t think anyone (and that includes my partner, friends, and family) is going to change their political viewpoint overnight. So I’m trying to set my sights on baby steps. It started with me announcing to Michael that if he refused to engage in politics, then I was going to take a pen to his mail-in ballot (please don’t report me) and use his vote for good. Basically, if he wasn’t going to vote for Hillary because he wanted to, I’d settle just for voting for her period. Then I told him we were going start donating to several progressive organizations like the ACLU, NAACP, Human Rights Campaign, and that I was giving myself a knee-jerk donation line item in our budget for when I’m feeling like I need to offset the horribleness of the world. I also do low-key political activism in our house like buying my baby feminist onesies and stocking our bookshelf with Spanish-language books and making sure he doesn’t grow up to be an apolitical white dude. Which interestingly, has been probably the most effective in getting the adults around me (including my apolitical husband and more conservative family members) politically engaged too. And finally, a few weeks ago, I said that I was going to a march to protest ICE and children being detained at the border, and I really wanted us to go as a family. So we went to a smaller rally (so as not to trigger my partner’s severe social anxiety). And you know what? Spelling all this out here I’m suddenly realizing how far my partner has come in the last few years.

Is the work definitely on my shoulders? Yes. Do I think anything would change if it wasn’t? No. Am I pissed that that’s the state of things? Yeah. But I’ll take progress over perfection if it gets us where we need to go.

Maddie Eisenhart, CRO

Now how about you? What role does politics play in your relationship? How do you navigate politics and activism in your relationship during the Trump era? And for those of you who disagree with your partner’s politics, how do you do it, and are there any places you draw the line?

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