Hers & His: Politics Makes Strange Bedfellows - 10/04
Smart Marriages ®
Thu Oct 7 14:28:48 EDT 2004
subject: Hers & His: Politics Makes Strange Bedfellows - 10/04
- HERS & HIS: POLITICS MAKES STRANGE BEDFELLOWS
By Marilyn Elias, USA TODAY
October 7, 2004
(This one ends w/ Wade Horn! - diane )
The nation's sharp political divisions, intensified by this year's election,
are mirrored in bitter marital disputes as politically opposed spouses
increasingly turn pillow talk into a war of words.
"Political differences are causing much more of a problem than they used to
in marriages. It's at a fever pitch," says Anthony Jurich, a marriage
therapist for 35 years and a Kansas State University professor.
In the Washington, D.C., area, psychologist Renana Brooks has seen a similar
change. In questionnaires couples fill out before therapy, they never named
political disputes as a problem until a few years ago; now more than a third
mention politics as a sore point.
Even singles are taking a more polarized approach when looking for love. New
romantic match Web sites keyed to political preferences are mushrooming.
ConservativeMatch.com ("for sweet hearts, not bleeding hearts") and
SingleRepublican.com lean right; on the other side, there's
DemocraticSingles.net and ActForLove.org.
Barbie Adler, president of Chicago-based Selective Search, a service that
matches upscale singles, says she's seen a shift to more definite partisan
preferences in the five years she's been in business.
Still, political differences don't have to ruin relationships, experts say.
Couples who love one another and communicate respectfully can weather the
humbling experience of always canceling out each other's vote.
These disputes seem alluring on dates, but "after the wedding day, the
gloves are off," says Joshua Coleman, a San Francisco psychologist and
author of The Marriage Makeover:Finding Happiness in Imperfect Harmony.
Coleman thinks screaming, partisan political TV shows are inflaming couples.
"These shows are more like entertainment during the gladiator days than
reasoned debate over the issues," he says.
Everyone's arguing so hard because they're so afraid, Jurich says. "Each
side thinks if the other side gets in, we're doomed."
9/11 raised the stakes
When the World Trade Center fell, "we got the feeling we're on a permanent
war basis," Brooks says. "People think survival is at stake."
"When you're anxious, you hang on to the life raft even tighter," says Los
Angeles psychologist Marion Solomon, author of Narcissism and Intimacy: Love
and Marriage in an Age of Confusion. And it's difficult to be pleasant to
someone whose decisions you think could snatch it away from you, she says.
Alynne Sharp, a Jacksonville artist, loves her husband, "but we both feel so
strongly in this election, and it's been hard for me."
Her spouse, Philip, a Republican, "watches Fox, Fox, Fox all the time,"
Sharp says. "Then we go in the car and, for a breath of fresh air, it's Rush
Limbaugh. Let's just say air, forget the fresh," she jokes. Sharp insists on
equal radio time: a half hour of National Public Radio for every half hour
When they visit her mother-in-law, a lifelong Republican, it's "pile on"
time, she says. "They just don't let up, and I find it hard to argue.
Sometimes, just to try to end it, I'll say 'You could be right,' In my mind
I'm thinking, 'But you're not.' "
Gretchen Klein, a Lincolnshire, Ill., teacher, often argues with her
husband, Bennett Rodick. "He'll bait me. He says 'You liberals, look what
you're trying to do now. You all want me to pay more taxes!' " When Klein
talks about the need for a social conscience, she says he shoots back, "
'Why don't you write the government a check? Why don't you give the tax
refund back, Gretchen?' "
Politics are important to Klein, whose father ran for the New York Senate.
She's elated that her 15-year-old son, David, has turned leftward
(12-year-old Philip isn't talking politics), and even feeds her anti-Bush
jokes from Jay Leno.
Despite their political wrangles, Klein calls her marriage "basically happy,
because we agree on so many things: child-rearing, how to handle money,
religion and values. But Bennett's political beliefs do bother me. I'm still
hopeful I can get him to change his mind."
Those who manage political differences well tend to be the same spouses who
show respect and tolerance in other areas. If savage battles erupt over
politics, or mates use stony withdrawals, "there's usually a history of
disrespect for each other," Solomon says.
Deborah Voves, an Anchorage office manager, disagrees with her husband,
Steve, a Bush supporter. "We also have religious differences, child-rearing
differences, finance-handling differences, and on and on," she says. They've
decided to stay together x for now x and stop arguing to spare their two
teenagers anymore pain.
"We are now much more like roommates," Voves says. In her mind, their
political disputes reflect what different people they are, and these core
differences, rather than politics, are what really harmed their marriage.
Couples who successfully navigate "a divided house" show respect, use humor
and stick to issues rather than name-calling, experts say.
When Sharp found a big bottle of ketchup with a "W" on it in her kitchen,
she didn't have to wonder who put it there. "I thought it was so very
funny," she says. Sharp still speaks well of her husband, Philip. "I respect
him for having an opinion, whether it's my opinion or not. He's concerned,
he's knowledgeable and he's making an educated decision about what he
Jerry Lewine, an Agoura Hills, Calif., computer consultant and Bush backer,
talk issues with his liberal wife, hospital administrator Sheryl Rudie.
"She's really stubborn but brilliant. She runs circles around me," Lewine
says. "But even when I know she's wrong, I try to keep the peace. Let's just
say, we both know when to stop."
Both had previous unhappy marriages, and they're raising a blended family of
three kids. "We love each other," Lewine says. "Our values are absolutely
the same, and we were raised similarly. We're not going to let politics get
in the way."
It's a myth that people need a soul mate who agrees on everything to make a
happy marriage, says Diane Sollee of SmartMarriages.com, a clearinghouse for
marriage information. Married couples have just as many disagreements as
divorcing mates, research shows. The difference is, those who split up
ridicule their spouses during disputes; they blame and criticize.
The heated post-9/11 political climate may be encouraging such contempt,
Sollee says. Battling spouses should try marriage education courses to learn
how to live peaceably with political and other differences, she advises.
But for those who already know how to fight fair, politics can make strange
x though very happy x bedfellows. For example, the union of Christine Black
and B. Jay Cooper hardly seems kismet.
Cooper was deputy White House press secretary in the Reagan and senior Bush
administrations and also worked for the Republican National Committee.
Black, a longtime political journalist, worked for Teresa Heinz Kerry and
still consults for Kerry's personal philanthropies. She's known John Kerry
32 years and says she's "maxed out" in contributions to him. Black and
Cooper wed in July after not seeing each other in the 30 years since they
were college classmates.
Cooper thinks he's given Black and her many Democratic friends a cold splash
of reality: "They think all Republicans are anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-poor
people," he says.
Not that he's lured Black into the GOP. "We do have passionate discussions.
I don't think I've ever convinced her of anything, and I never will." But he
loves her, and he loves trying. "It's fun, it's intellectually stimulating.
We enjoy taking apart the political ads objectively and talking about the
Black sees her husband as a loyal if misguided idealist. "He's so fond of
George Bush's father and knows a lot of those folks, so he can't believe
they're as venal as I think they are. He just takes it on faith."
A marriage deal-breaker? No way, Black says. "Life's too short. We're two
people who found the perfect mate in our 50s."
Psychologist Wade Horn grew up in the '60s amid such political differences
at home. His mother was an ardent lefty, his dad a conservative businessman.
As dinner-table debates raged, kids were expected to listen and participate.
"The idea that they'd break up seemed no more likely than that tomorrow
you'd wake up on the moon," says Horn, assistant secretary for children and
families in the Department of Health and Human Services. "It was clear their
commitment to one another transcended differences on issues."
Now Horn and his six adult siblings are all over the map politically. His
parents just celebrated their 52nd anniversary.
And Horn commends his father's dinner-ending ritual to peace-seeking dads
everywhere. "He would push himself away from the table and say, 'I guess
that's what makes a horse race,' " Horn recalls. "And then he would get up
and do the dishes."
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