Common advice for a first date is not to talk about religion or politics, and that is often a pretty good guideline. After all, you don’t know each other well, and it is easy to misunderstand where the other person is coming from. It’s considered impolite to bring these topics up, and it’s usually much better to stick with family, jobs, and other low-key, getting-to-know-you-type conversations.
But as the relationship progresses, such issues will inevitably arise. After all, even people who say they don’t care about politics care about issues that affect their lives, such as taxes, war, the economy, the environment and guns. Politics are constantly intersecting our lives. And in an election year, emotions can get heightened. We live in a time of polarizing politics and that can have a serious impact on our relationships. What should you do if the person you’ve been dating turns out to have beliefs the exact opposite of yours?
Do Politics Really Matter?
Recently, I was consulting with a young woman named Kate. Kate had been seeing a guy for a few months, and they got along great. They loved going to watch basketball (Kate played in college), and enjoyed being around each other. Recently, they were at a bar watching a game, and after it was over, the TV lingered on the same channel and transitioned to the news. Even though the sound was off, they could clearly see one of this year’s candidates giving a speech.
Kate wasn’t much into politics and was a little surprised when her date started talking about how much he wanted this guy to be the next President. She asked, “Why?” and he went into a lengthy diatribe about immigration. This surprised Kate—it had never come up before. She disagreed with him and felt that his stances made her uncomfortable. Not wanting to argue, and not believing that you should talk politics on a date, she made noncommittal noises and changed the subject to something they both could agree on—terrible referees in the game they had watched.
Kate told this story to her friends, and they advised her not to worry. “It’s just politics,” they said, and Kate and her new guy got along so well otherwise. But as I talked with her, she seemed unconvinced by that. She seemed to think it mattered a lot—and I agreed.
A Relationship Can Work with Political Disagreements
If looking for a casual encounter, a few fun dates, and nothing more, none of this would really be a concern (to an extent). But when building a relationship, worldviews do matter. I’m not referring to culture—surely, things like movies, books, and music matter, but they are issues people can get around, for the most part. It can even be fun to expose someone to something new.
That isn’t always the case with politics. A person’s political stance is often a matter of deeply held beliefs, and these beliefs can really say something about the person. It says what he or she cares about and finds important, and what governs his or her relations with other people.
This isn’t an end-all be-all, of course. People in real life are not political laundry lists. Leaning Democratic doesn’t mean you absolutely support XYZ. Being a Republican doesn’t mean that every part of their national platform is your gospel. Politics might be something that rarely comes up. Or if it does come up, there can be disagreement between the two of you and that can be healthy. Passionate opinions can be a great spark, especially if there is an infrastructure of mutual respect.
But If It Doesn’t Work, It’s OK
All that said, people can hold beliefs passionately, and these beliefs can be a huge part of a personality. If you believe very strongly that the government shouldn’t have any power over gun sales, and your partner believes it should (or vice versa), this can be a cause of huge disagreement. These issues come up a lot, sometimes weekly.
Agreeing not to talk about things doesn’t always work, especially if you are truly passionate. You don’t want to have to bury a part of your personality just to keep a mutual peace. That doesn’t even work. It can just lead to resentment and a displacement of emotion—gun control can burble into a dispute over dishes.
So, the key is communication. Talk about how you will talk to each other about these issues. Communicate about a respectful exchange of beliefs. Set limits for when it can be discussed, but don’t avoid it altogether. In a relationship, you must feel free to be yourself and not sublimate a part of your personality for some fake veneer of peace. That won’t work long term.
And if you feel after a bit of time that it isn’t going to work out because of incompatibility, don’t consider that to be a failure. Your belief system speaks to who you are. Walking away from something because you feel uncomfortable about being yourself is not a bad reason — it is one of the best. In the end, a successful relationship is one in which both sides feel the fullness of their mutual expression. If the ballot box is interfering with the bedroom, it’s OK to choose the former.
Not sure if your and your partner’s differing political beliefs are a deal breaker? Advisors at KEEN.com can help provide some clarity.