Red and Blue Relationships

The chairs in my office for working with couples are different colors: one’s red and the other’s blue. I sometimes joke that the red one is for the Republican and the blue one is for the Democrat. Of course, relationships are more difficult than just knowing which chair we’re supposed to sit in.

The nature of conflict varies from couple to couple. A lucky few do get to disagree about politics, a fact that may be coming up more as elections near on November 4. Politics touch upon some of the most fundamental human emotions, such as hope, honor, fear, and passion. This fact is illustrated well by the party faithful chanting “Country First” or “Yes We Can” at the conventions. Such events are big melting pots of emotions. So, it makes sense that couples who differ on the issues might be experiencing more heated debate or conflict during campaign season.

What’s the best recipe for dealing with political conflict at home, in the office, or among friends? I’m always amazed when I see James Carville and Mary Matalin launching war on each other on the political talk shows, because it almost seems impossible that such ardent party rivals could be peaceful and loving off camera. There’s a lot about connection in relationships to be learned from their example. Carville and Matalin spoke about their “Crazy Love” in an interview with Salon in 1997. Matalin pointed out that, “We’re actually very similar people. We’re both advocates. We’re both passionate. We both like a good, fair fight.” Carville and Matalin connect in their relationship by identifying common ground (advocacy and passion) and then allowing the other his or her own perspective. It’s important for the health of any relationship to accept such differences.

Remember, also, to listen for the heart of each other’s beliefs. Since political convictions are ultimately tied to emotions, it’s important to try to understand the depth of your partner’s perspective. Listen for what makes sense about the other side. Say what makes sense. Try to step into their shoes and identify what feeling might inspire their position. Take a guess at naming the feelings. If you can do this, then you’ll begin to build bridges of connection. Together, you can respect, love, understand, and empathize while still maintaining your individual points of view. As one couple once said to me, “We’ll never change each other’s political opinions, but that’s ok. Ultimately it doesn’t matter anyway because on Election Day we cancel out each other’s votes!”