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Run like a legislature: political differences' impact on relationships

by Aaron Cerbone - News Editor
Tue, Feb 14th 2017 11:00 pm

Valentine's Day has just passed, but in 2017, when our nation seems more politically divided than ever, how can romance survive? Combining politics and relationships is messy business; it combines two of the things people are most passionate about.

The generation currently coming through college has notoriously low voting rates but the 2016 election seems to have sparked a movement of political activism and discussion from all areas of politics.

Though we have only just started to vote in elections, we have (or at least show) strong convictions and opinions about politics. Unfortunately, according to research, we don't really know what we are talking about.

 "After 60 years of studying political behavior, political scientists have concluded that Americans are not well-informed about politics, interested in political affairs, engaged in political behavior, or constrained ideologically," according to "The Role of Political Similarity in Romantic Relationships" by Chelsea Phillips. "Yet, psychological scholarships on interpersonal relationships show that these same Americans seem to use explicitly political criteria when selecting social networks, picking discussion partners, and even choosing spouses."

This is because, according to Phillips' dissertation, "political attitudes are 'core attitudes' revealing fundamental values that are difficult to compromise on."

According to The College at Brockport's professor of psychology, Dr. Kelly Brennan-Jones, how you feel about a candidate reveals fundamental incompatibilities, it can show character and belief differences that can point to future problems. If a significant other is okay with the idea of war and the other is against it, that shows an ideological divide in the two.

There is no single answer to the question whether politics influence a relationship, it is an individual choice couples make. The ideological divide is a line in a relationship that cannot be crossed if the relationship is going to survive.

Brennan-Jones explains that attraction is driven by similarity, people will find others with matching views more attractive and political views is an important thing to consider when getting into a serious relationship.

Brennan-Jones warns us that we can fall prey to "assumed similarities" and should be aware that we create fantasy ideas and assumptions about attractive people.

 "You can like somebody and imagine, just because you like them, that they have your same political outlook," Brennan-Jones said.

If you care about politics, the topic will undoubtedly come up naturally. See if they are even interested in talking about it and find out where a date stands on the issues you care about before getting too serious. That is not to say that if you stand on opposite sides of a debate that you cannot make it work and should end the date right there. You also do not want to immediately jump to politics when getting to know a date, let the conversation come up naturally as you discuss current events or the news.

If there is a disagreement about a person or policy, have a discussion with them about why they hold the views they do. Brennan-Jones stresses that being empathetic is crucial to making this work. Talking can reveal whether you have an ideological divide or not.

A large part of the division between the political camps in the past year can be attributed to the fact that many on either side during the election saw completely different candidates. Trump supporters saw him as a patriot while seeing Hillary as a liar and Hillary supporters saw Trump as a bigot and her as a progressive choice.

The most fulfilling relationships are the ones in which you can speak openly and debate an issue and where either individual can see the other side and even change their views.

Talking an issue over and trying to resolve your difference in itself is difficult but is worth it. Look no further than Brennan-Jones' husband for a perfect example of how to make this kind of relationship work.

"He's the most open-minded person I've ever met," Brennan Jones said. "He will really listen and evaluate, that's a lot of fun."

It is very hard to change your view on an issue but being open to hear the other person's side is necessary for relationships and politics.

"There are issues in American politics where we have not managed as a society to find common ground," The College at Brockport's interim political science and international studies department chair, Dr. Mark Chadsey, said.

Chadsey says that for decades the nation was actually closer than we always said, lending some credence to the "other side's" view. However, in the past year this atmosphere has faded and there is an actual division in politics. Chadsey demonstrates the mentality needed to truly have an open mind.

"People are entitled to see the world differently than I do because they come from a different place and a different perspective," Chadsey said.

If you can't reach an agreement with your partner you can always avoid the topic of politics. Coworkers do this all the time and can weather long work relationships by isolating politics from their interactions. However, Brennan-Jones points out it is much harder to do this with someone you are sleeping with.

"If you are a die-hard person on one side of the fence and your partner is on the other side, I don't see it lasting until you have reconciled each other's point-of-view," Brennan-Jones said.

If politics is not central in you or your significant-other's lives, it would be best to avoid conversation around it if possible.

Each person and each relationship will need to make individual decisions about what role politics will play in their personal lives.

Making these decisions about relationships means you have to know yourself better than anyone else. You need to make choices about your relationship with politics and how you will let politics affect your relationships. Whether in the bedroom or the voting booth, use your discretion in who you pick.