There are couples and friends who get along well when they disagree about politics. This political season, however, has even strained some of those relationships.

Again and again we hear how arguments especially over the presidential candidates in both the primaries and the general campaigns have actually destroyed friendships and driven couples into silence when it comes to discussing just among themselves how they’re voting.

Whether or not a relationship can survive political disagreements depends upon what isn’t actually the political disagreement. It depends upon both why someone holds the political positions they do and what being right about ones politics means to their ego.

We’ve heard that if we want to get along we should never discuss politics or religion. Yet it’s these two things we need to discuss with each other – not to convert our friend or partner to our position but to get to know them better.

Just as relationships can work when members hold different religious positions, so it is with politics. But whether or not religious or political diversity is good for any relationship depends upon the psychology behind why someone holds both.

A person’s religious and political views tell us much about what’s beneath an individual’s reasons for accepting and identifying with a religious or political position. And those deeper realities are more likely to make relationships unbearable.

One’s politics tells us about what is meaningful to them and how they approach life. It tells us how they analyze problems and what they believe are realistic solutions to those and future problems.

This means that when dating one can learn about some deeper values by how someone votes. What do they mean by “personal responsibility”? Is it about how someone takes care of themself or do they believe we are personally responsible for a larger community? And how large is that community?

How do they relate to someone they see as an other? Do they show empathy for those who are in other circumstances as if they could just as easily find themselves in their shoes?

What are some of their first assumptions about human nature? Are people basically lazy or out to take advantage of others? Or is human nature basically good and when humans don’t act out of their goodness, they’re actually showing us what has happened to them in life?

When we listen to someone speak about their politics, then, we hear about how they will relate to us, to the problems relationships encounter, and to themselves. Their view of what human beings are like means we too are going to be interpreted as another of those human beings.

We learn, through listening to their views and how they react to our responses, much that will matter in the long term. But there’s also another element to watch.

We will learn a lot about a person by how they hold their political (and religious) views. Whatever their views, then, to what extent can they relate to those who disagree?

Are they somehow compelled to argue? Must they bring up their positions in almost any company?

Can they let some disagreements go or must they defend their own side all of the time? Can they walk away or does the fact that others disagree with them continue to gnaw at them?

Why can’t they let it go? Why is it so important to them? Why do they need to be “right”?

By watching for how someone is or is not seemingly obsessed with political arguments, we learn about someone’s insecurities. We learn that somehow a person must feel that people agree with them in order to feel good about themself. We learn that a person must have people agreeing with them for them to feel that their beliefs are okay.

These are actually the emotional issues that will exist beyond and beneath political and religious disagreements. They’ll affect our relationships in the longer run.

We will have to decide, then, if we are willing to be in a close relationship with someone with these issues. If we’ve already committed ourselves to a life “till death do us part” to this person, what we’re going to have to relate to is not political disagreement but the reasons why those disagreements are bothering each member of the couple, and whether we’re willing to accept that as just the way this relationship is going to be.

Contributed by

Bob Minor

University of Kansas
Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies
A national resource for information on gender issues and gay/straight relationships for organizations, businesses, educational institutions, and media outlets such as NBC and USA Today, Bob Minor, Ph.D. …

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