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The Elephant (or Donkey) In The Room

two people walk together with an American flagged draped over their shoulders

Here in the Pacific Northwest, many of us likely feel comforted that we seem to live in a protected, left-leaning bubble of progressiveness. We probably take for granted that those we enter into friendly or romantic relationships with share our beliefs and values and vote accordingly, perhaps without even asking. But, what if we discuss it, and in the process discover our assumed beloved blue bastion of broad-minded enlightenment is a little more purple? That is, in fact, a core tenet of democracy, right—that differences in political opinion can coexist in one country? But can they coexist in a relationship?

Countless articles have been posted about this and from all over the world. From the to the Independent to Harper’s Bazaar, with even the statistical analysis site FiveThirtyEight getting in on the discussion. One could make the argument that couples may happily exist forever if they never discuss politics, and in fact, this likely happens more than we think. But with this most recent election here in the US (as well as other events around the world, like Brexit), there seems to be a more fevered pitch around the notion of knowing where one’s political leanings lie. With nearly 40% of Americans noting having tension with family or friends over the election, it seems to make sense that this would spill over into dating.

So, can we really just agree to disagree?

Or do differences in this realm carry more magnitude now than they have before? How much do your political stances (or even affiliation) align with your personal values? And as a result, can you place them on the backburner when wanting to be in a relationship with someone?

All questions aside (we’ve asked seven so far, which is enough, honestly), there seem to be two ways to go about this. Either don’t date those outside your preferred political party/leanings, or, be open to the idea of a relationship with someone who believes (and likely votes) differently. Regardless, discussing politics in a relationship can be daunting, affiliation notwithstanding, so there might be a few things to consider:

First, know thyself.

This may sound super cheesy, but you have to be honest with yourself about where your lines in the sand are. Think about what issues are a deal-breaker versus those you would be willing to hear the other side. This will also help you determine when you cut your losses or when to try to see things through.

Second, start the conversation early.

Waiting to figure out major political differences at a later date won’t work well, especially if you develop strong feelings for someone with whom you can’t foresee continuing a relationship with. And if you find yourself thinking, “Well, maybe our differing views aren’t that big of a deal…” discuss your relationship with your partner in definitive terms. Perhaps play the “what if?” game—for example, where do you both stand on abortion? What if you’re faced with an unintended pregnancy; how will making that decision impact you both if you’re on opposite sides of the categorical fence?

Lastly, R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

If you’re open to idea of seeing where things might lead, politics be damned, keep it respectful. Everyone brings their own experiences to the table and in order for any relationship to work, respecting a person’s perspective is key. Local legend, Dr. Julie Gottman, co-founder and President of The Gottman Institute, a research institute dedicated to creating and maintaining better health and love in relationships, recently wrote, “Successful couples demonstrate…only by first listening and understanding did they later manage to reach compromise.”

If you want to share your experience (and possibly hope to influence their beliefs in the process) you have to respect, and actually listen to, what your partner has to say. It should go without saying that your partner should offer you the same in return. If they don’t, a lack of mutual respect doesn’t bode well, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post.