Since the election of Donald J. Trump, political disagreements have been ravaging our personal relationships like never before. This already widespread phenomenon will continue to grow unless we learn to fight it.
From friends to relatives to lovers, no relationship is immune to this crisis. I Love You, but I Hate Your Politics draws from interviews with every type of politically mixed couple, as well as Dr. Safer’s own experiences as a die-hard liberal happily married to a stalwart conservative. The result is a practical guide to maintaining respect and intimacy in our increasingly divided world.
I Love You, but I Hate Your Politics is sure to educate and entertain anyone who has felt the strain of ideological differences in their personal life. No matter which side of the fence you're on, Dr. Safer offers frank, practical advice for salvaging and strengthening your bonds with your loved ones. This book is required reading for any politically minded friend, relative, or significant other in the Trump era.
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|Publisher:||St. Martin's Publishing Group|
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The Endless Fight
How to Lose a Political Battle, Every Time
Many of the people you will meet in these pages are embroiled in fights with their nearest and dearest that they never can win. In other aspects of their lives they are considerate, caring, and intelligent, but when their political hackles are raised they become obsessed, unreachable — even unhinged. Often one partner attacks the other, who is trying to keep the peace or avoid the onslaught, and the dispute becomes less about a particular ideological position than about the unbearable fact that an immutable, fundamental difference exists between two people who love each other.
Below are some surefire techniques for guaranteeing the worst possible outcome to such a confrontation, all of which the intimate political combatants I spoke with and describe in this chapter and the next have actually employed. Do not imagine that any one of them will work any better for you than it did for them. You will not succeed where they failed. Do not try these at home!
Thrust unsolicited partisan articles into your spouse's hands at the breakfast table, or deliver them daily to his or her in-box. Then conduct an interrogation about the contents, which will certainly convince the other person to embrace your point of view.
Email a PowerPoint presentation entitled "Reeducation" to your best friend, who supports neither side. This will show her the error of her ways and earn you her gratitude for helping her see the light.
If your boyfriend makes what you consider a racially insensitive comment, give him a lecture on the history of slavery in America. Shove him into his seat to make sure he pays attention.
If a minor difference of opinion in a political spat — so trivial that the two of you still vote for the same candidate — enrages your partner so much that he breaks your marble table, follow him out of the room and smash his cell phone into smithereens in revenge. This is most persuasive when each of you has had at least one drink.
Passionate political disputes can wreak havoc with even the best marriages and other committed relationships. Couples who have lived together harmoniously for decades, and who agree on practically everything else — including those who voted for different candidates in past elections — suddenly feel threatened to the core as never before, as though some awful truth about their mate that irreparably violates their trust has been exposed. They feel stuck in an interminable battle to change the other person's mind, a campaign that has no beginning, no end, and from which they cannot extricate themselves. Most of the time they can't even remember what they were fighting about the day before, because it's always, numbingly, the same. These days, political infidelity evokes emotions just as intense and devastating as the old- fashioned kind used to do.
The Liberal Turncoat
Sandy Kaplan, a sixty-seven-year-old lifelong liberal who had a long career as a federal law enforcement officer, still cannot accept that Dan, her husband of twenty-nine years, voted for Trump instead of Hillary in 2016. Until then he had always been as progressive as she — and a sincere feminist ("I think it's time for a woman president," he'd said more than once, and meant it) — but some successful business dealings he'd had with Trump convinced him that "Trump gets things done," and he became a fervent supporter of the Republican candidate.
"It was unbearable — I couldn't respect his position. We'd always had the same politics. When I found out how he voted I wanted to kill him — and I had the means," she said, only half- jokingly referring to the fact that she packed heat professionally.
Suddenly there was "nothing we agreed on," as though this one vote of his canceled out everything else they still had in common; for her, being out of sync politically seemed to undermine what she admired about his character. Even though she appreciated his pride when she provided security for the Women's March in Washington ("I admire everything she does," he told me), she couldn't forgive him.
Sandy tirelessly, combatively labored to change Dan's mind back, despite his total stonewalling of her efforts and the serious escalation of tension between them that ensued. Eventually they decided to avoid the topic. "But," she admitted, "I violated the agreement." So shocked, desperate, and outraged was she that she almost lost her formidable sense of humor.
The bruising fights continued long after the election, each one instigated by her. "I finally said we shouldn't have any more political discussions at all," she said, "but he adhered and I didn't." Why didn't she take her own advice? "I feel vindicated every time Trump commits some new outrage, and I always point it out to him. It's the only time I feel good."
For a momentary gratification, Sandy risks endangering the bond that sustains her, the bulwark of her life. She is violating one of the prime directives for mixed-political couples: no gloating. It never changes anybody's opinions, but it's a foolproof alienator. She fans the flames every time she sticks it to him, which is basically daily; a more volatile or combative husband would never tolerate her provocations or would retaliate. This is a situation where, because of their temperamental differences, rational, mutual political discussion cannot happen. She desperately needs another outlet for her wrath if she wants to do her part to preserve this otherwise excellent marriage.
In Sandy's mind, even Dan's spotless feminist credentials are now suspect, forever besmirched by his enthusiasm for a man she abhors, although the reason for his vote — as was the case for many people — came from convictions about policy, not character. This was too much cognitive dissonance for her to tolerate. It was impossible for her to accept that her husband's personal work experience with his candidate had changed something, but certainly not everything.
The disillusionment was totally one-sided; Dan makes no attempt to force his ideas down his wife's throat and feels it's fine for her to vote and to think as she pleases. Only she cannot bear the change.
Sandy had come up with a novel method of coping with her profound disillusionment: she convinced herself that she had actually succeeded in changing Dan's mind back to being in lockstep with hers. She based this on the fact that he stopped contradicting her and avoided political "discussions" — harangues by her — assiduously. She only found out that he hadn't budged an iota when he told her about his interview with me. To her credit, she found this amusing and felt abashed.
Sandy has noticed that Dan "doesn't defend Trump anymore," but she hasn't figured out that he's doing it tactically to keep the peace, not because he's had a change of heart. She still cuts articles out of the paper and thrusts them across the breakfast table. "Every morning, I'm criticized," he said with resignation. "What do you do when she hands you an article?" I wondered. "Nothing," he said. "I draw a blank, because then there's no argument — I've found that if you don't say anything back, mostly she drops it." Ultimately, it is his more placid, forgiving, avoidant temperament that keeps the peace between them.
No Fox News for You
Frequently something much deeper than politics threatens a marriage, although it is expressed in political terms. Ideological disagreement obsesses couples and blinds them to the underlying dynamics that drive them apart. These fights can be symptomatic — indicators of underlying fault lines that were masked by political agreement earlier on. The combatants cannot see what's really going on, which is often carried by the tone, as much as the content, of their exchanges, and they remain embroiled in the surface issues rather than recognizing and addressing the underlying emotions, so nothing can be resolved.
Mark and Phyllis Halperin, a long-married couple in their midsixties, were so distressed by the perpetual political tension that was damaging their relationship that they interrupted a holiday vacation in Manhattan to come and talk to me about it.
Mark was tenderly solicitous of his disconsolate wife, who was near tears of sorrow mingled with bitter outrage throughout our conversation. He sat close to her, kept his hand on her shoulder, spoke to her soothingly, and did not rise to the bait she amply provided. Clearly, theirs was a perpetual fight (and overtly a one- sided one), and this was only a single day's episode.
The tension between the Halperins had been building since he switched party allegiances in the George W. Bush years, but it boiled over when he voted for Trump.
She has neither accepted nor forgiven his apostasy and believes it destroyed their shared world. "We've moved apart in our basic values," she says. "I can only recoil." Like Dan Kaplan, Mark keeps his political opinions to himself ("I mostly button my lip or occasionally make a meek argument," he says) and never disputes Phyllis's right to disagree. In fact, he feels empathy for her views on social welfare policy, many of which he knows are based on her long experience in the field — in which they both have advanced professional degrees — even though he has not shared them for years. To his mind, their different views do no damage to their intimacy. "Let's concentrate on everything else we still have in common," he says. This would be excellent advice if she could only take it. He is sincerely disturbed that she feels so threatened by his change of allegiance, and feels as rejected as she does. They are both suffering, and both stuck.
Mostly she talked and he listened, interspersed with sympathetic glances and gentle words of self-defense. There was an underlying sense of hopelessness and desperation in both of them, as though they were embroiled in a battle with no possible resolution. I felt I was witnessing an oft-repeated ritual that went nowhere, in which it was nearly impossible to intervene.
Phyllis considers the fact that he turned right while she stayed left a personal betrayal of everything she holds dear; it has destroyed her equilibrium. How could he really love her if he did this to her? Not only has he rejected her philosophy, but he has abandoned her altogether and left her completely alone. "You're my social network," she says with real distress. She feels she has lost him utterly because they no longer agree on everything, ignoring (as is also the case with the Kaplans) large expanses of common ground; for example, Mark agreed to make Phyllis's sister, a committed Communist, the guardian for their disabled daughter — hardly a decision based on ideology. Phyllis is deaf to her and Mark's similarities and the fundamental strength of their relationship because she focuses entirely on the one thing she has lost: lockstep political agreement. She takes this literally as the problem, when it is only a symptom.
The most striking example of Phyllis's tyranny (and her way of punishing her "unfaithful" spouse) is her censoring of his access to the free press. "I forbid him Fox News," she says unapologetically. He is not permitted to watch the channel, which is her nemesis, even in the basement of their three-story house:
"I can't stand to know you're down there with it on, watching something I abhor."
"But I'm mostly taping, and I only listen to a little bit of what I tape."
"No you don't, and besides it doesn't matter — you tape everything."
For Phyllis, those tapes, whether he listens to them or not, are radioactive, pulsing up from the basement three floors down and spewing poisonous political vapors that contaminate the atmosphere.
To my dismay, I saw that Mark mostly went along with this prohibition (with some furtive forays into Hannity) and capitulated to her decree in order to keep the peace. When I said that it was unfair and would cause anyone to become resentful, she was unmoved; since she cannot change his mind, exiling and controlling him are her only options.
She's a sad tyrant, but a tyrant nonetheless, preventing her husband from being himself and having his own ideas because only hers are kosher in her eyes. Blind to the genuine love he showers her with, and which she also feels toward him outside of politics, she only felt secure when they had a total mind-meld. Now that he no longer provides it, she must be avenged.
The politically betrayed, regardless of gender or party affiliation, are rigid extremists who consider any significant difference of opinion apostasy. These people are so literal-minded and exacting that they cannot conceive that they could actually share, and continue to share, the most important basic values with someone with whom they disagree politically. This attitude gives politics far too central a role and causes people to focus on beliefs rather than actions.
Why does Phyllis equate political unanimity with true love? Her history provides the answer: she came from a left-wing family, and her parents marched on protests together. This is her image of an ideal marriage, and she needs to replicate that literal like- mindedness — as though joint marchers could have no fundamental disagreements, as every couple must. She sees Mark's political shift as a betrayal and a rejection of her when, in fact, it harkens back to his own past. He is, he told me, re-identifying with the conservative father he once repudiated but with whom he made peace and now shares a worldview. People can change their minds as they grow older for all sorts of reasons, and rarely is it in reaction to their mate, or any reflection on their marriage. In fact, political unanimity can actually mask underlying problems in a relationship, which emerge with a vengeance when a couple's politics diverge.
Why does Mark tolerate the way Phyllis punishes him? He is as afraid of losing her as she is of having lost him. His passivity empowers her aggression, and he is too afraid of her fragility to confront the damage she is doing to what is essentially a close, loving, long-enduring, and mutual bond. Neither of them realizes that their marriage has shown itself to be strong enough to endure despite differences of opinion.
A glimmer of hope occurred at the very end of our conversation. I had mentioned by way of example that people often attempt to change a mate's mind by inundating the culprit with unsolicited partisan articles from their own point of view, a practice that is both provocative and ineffective. To my surprise, Phyllis admitted, "I do that." "I recommend that you stop immediately," I said. "It will improve things." Mark concurred: "I'd like to find a way for us both to emphasize all that we still have in common." "I can stop sending articles," she offered, and I was encouraged to hear it. If she also learns to tolerate him watching whatever news he wants — wherever he wants — they could have the beginnings of a real détente.
* * *
An extraordinary evolution — one I never expected — occurred for this couple as a result of our conversation. I wrote to Mark to ask how they were doing, because their distress had made a deep impression on me and I was worried about them. They seemed embroiled in an eternal battle with no possible winners. This is his reply:
I think our conversation with you helped a lot. We've been having an easier time staying in the nonpolitical realm and finding mutual enjoyment there. For my wife, I think our chat gave her the sense that we are not so unusual and that was comforting. Your comment about knowing people with all the right politics who are still assholes (and, of course, the very good people with the "wrong" politics) was an important reminder.
People can change.
How Can I Trust You Ever Again?
Men are just as susceptible as women to Spousal Political Conversion Anxiety Syndrome, a diagnosis I have discovered that has yet to make it into the DSM-5 (the standard psychiatric diagnostic manual) but has already reached epidemic proportions. Even in an otherwise close relationship, either partner can be overcome with a sense of catastrophe and a loss of solidarity if the other shifts allegiances, even to the point of paranoia.
Turkish-born Mehmet Aksoy, a software designer, and his American wife, Anna, a yoga instructor, both in their midthirties, have been married four years and have two children. Mehmet was born in Istanbul — he was raised as a Muslim but has become an atheist — and emigrated to the United States with his parents. When the family became citizens, they all joined the Democratic Party, and in the 2016 election they were avid Clinton supporters.
Since they never discussed it, Mehmet assumed that Anna was in total political sync with him (which had never been entirely true; Sandy Kaplan made the same mistake about her husband, Dan). Then Anna horrified him by stating on Facebook that she had not voted for Obama and had officially become a Republican. She never told him this directly to his face, perhaps because she anticipated his she anticipated his reaction and wanted to avoid a confrontation — which, of course, had the opposite effect; knowing his sensitivity and its sources in his traumatic experience with his parents, it would have been a much better idea to let him know and take the consequences directly, rather than doing what he had to perceive as sneaking around. He was so upset that she wound up deleting her account to keep the peace. He still hasn't gotten over it, and he made her so miserable about her new affiliation that she contemplated leaving him, even though politics was their only acknowledged area of serious discord, the focus of potent unconscious anxieties for this otherwise loving and sensible man.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "I Love You, But I Hate Your Politics"
Copyright © 2019 Jeanne Safer.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction: A House Divided,
1. The Endless Fight,
2. Young and Foolish,
3. Family Feuds I,
4. Family Feuds II,
5. Relentless Hope,
6. Enemies No Longer,
7. Three Trump Supporters and the Women Who Love — or Leave — Them,
8. What Is a Core Value?,
9. We Love the Things We Love for What They Are,
Also by Jeanne Safer,
About the Author,