I’m in love with a staunch Republican, while I am very liberal. We’re living in Texas (frustrated sigh). I’m afraid our sometimes heated debates may ruin any chance for us. I hold back a lot….
I’ll state my bias up front: When in doubt, I err on the side of love. Margaret Martin, LCSW, a couples therapist in Austin, Texas, says that love between a liberal and a conservative can absolutely work. But, she adds, laughing, “I personally would not copulate—you can quote me on this—with someone who did not respect my reproductive rights.” At age 19, Lovesick, I drew the same line, losing my virginity to a Republican, but first making sure he was pro-choice.
Heated debates alone are not going to destroy your romance. Martin says that all couples fight—whether about Hillary Clinton or Netflix—and that in an enduring attachment, you just have to fight fair, without threatening to break up, and make amends in a timely manner.
What’s troubling, Lovesick, is not the arguments, but that you “hold back a lot.” I wonder if you’re avoiding discussing politics because you’re happier avoiding unproductive arguments, or if you’re burying an important part of yourself in an effort to appease your partner. If it’s the latter, you might consider whether your partner can love you the way you are—warts, framed Ann Richards photographs, and all. To do that, the beloved needs to actually know you.
Of course, the relationship might not work out in the long run: Research shows that people are more likely to stay together if their politics are compatible.
Yet many of us know a happy couple beating these odds. Since my friend Eli Heinlen, a liberal public-school teacher in Baltimore, has been married to two Republicans, I decided to give her a call. The difference between her marriages, and the key to making political differences work in a relationship, Heinlen says, is respect. In her first marriage, her husband “was patronizing.” Heinlen and her second husband, by contrast, value each other’s intelligence and opinions. They also don’t feel the need to discuss politics much, not even who they’ll be voting for. “The basis of our relationship is apparently sex… sex and food,” she adds with a laugh. “I used to say, ‘Baby, maybe we should have some other interests in common,’ but this has been working for seven years.”