Just two weeks into Donald Trump’s presidency, news hit of the first divorce triggered by the election results (or at least, the first to go viral).
In an interview with Reuters, Californian Gayle McCormick, 73, said she and her husband of 22 years decided to split up after he mentioned that he planned to vote for Trump.
Though her husband ended up writing in former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich at the ballot box instead, the damage was already done.
“It really came down to the fact I needed to not be in a position where I had to argue my point of view 24/7,” she said. “I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life doing that.”
Though an extreme example, the story highlights how hard it is to love and maintain a civil relationship when you’re at odds politically. Like the McCormicks, 30 percent of married households contain a mismatched partisan pair, according to data site FiveThirtyEight.
If those couples weren’t getting into arguments before the election, chances are they are now, with each day bringing fresh executive orders, cabinet confirmations and emotionally charged POTUS tweets. It’s all too easy to get upset if your spouse is your political opposite.
How do you avoid the McCormicks’ fate if you have different political views? Below, couples who’ve been in mixed political marriages for years share their advice.
Rule #1: Don’t look at your partner as a surrogate for his or her party’s candidate.
Kerry Maguire, a left-leaning dentist who serves as the director of the children’s outreach program at the Forsyth Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has been married to her husband Thomas Stossel, a right-leaning hematologist and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, for over 20 years.
In that time, she’s tried to not confuse Republican leaders’ views with those of her spouse.
“Tom has nothing in common with Donald Trump except they both belong to the Republican party,” she told The Huffington Post. “Still, I have occasionally ― and unfairly ― dumped my frustrations over Trump in Tom’s lap. Not surprisingly, that can evoke a defensive response in him, which I sometimes interpret as Tom being in agreement with Trump.”
Highly charged events like the Women’s March in January have definitely triggered some emotions in the couple. When arguments get too heated and Maguire is responsible, she takes full ownership for stirring things up.
“His response to the Women’s March was, ‘Didn’t these people vote?’ And I wanted to tear my hair out and start talking about parallel universes,” she told us. “Then I realized that I was the one who set us up for the fight.”
Rule #2: Keep things in perspective.
Stossell, meanwhile, recognizes that President Trump’s actions offend his wife far more than they offend him. Like any supportive spouse, he takes it in stride and actively listens when his wife is unnerved by the latest executive order or Kellyanne Conway’s most recent claim of “fake news.”
“Kerry complains about him from time to time and that’s OK with me,” he told HuffPost. “The 20 plus years I’ve been married to her have been the best of my life and there’s no way political disagreements could compromise my affection for her.”
Rule #3: Remind yourself that winning isn’t everything.
They may have appeared in a pre-election video titled “Donald Trump Is Ruining My Marriage,” but New York magazine columnist Mandy Stadtmiller and her Trump-supporting husband, comedian Pat Dixon, are still very much married.
That’s partly because both realized that winning an argument about Trump means very little compared to their growth as a couple.
“If we disagree on a political issue, America’s future is not going to be determined by who wins a single argument we are having in our tiny Chelsea apartment,” Stadtmillter said. “It might determine our future, though.”
She added: “Challenge, disagreement and adversity can make a good couple grow stronger, more emphatic and more sensitive if you never lose your respect for each other in the process of spirited debate.”
Rule #4: Don’t bring politics to bed.
Alicia Chandler, a left-leaning attorney who lives in the greater Detroit, Michigan area, has endured four presidential elections with her conservative, Trump-supporting husband. In that time, they’ve learned to avoid placing campaign signs in their yard (”We do not need to let the whole neighborhood in on our dysfunction,” she joked in a blog prior to the 2017 election) and to avoid talking about politics or unsettling world news before bed.
“You have to give each other safe spaces ― and I’m not simply suggesting that term because the mere mention of it infuriates my husband and most other conservatives,” she said.
To protect her marriage, Chandler tries to avoid looking at social media while in bed.
“When I do, I have the bad habit of getting into a heated conversation about whatever the political crisis of the day, which is horrible because my brain has already shut down for the day,” she said. “Basically, I am more likely to lose any argument on an intellectual level and it ends the the day on a negative note.”
Talking about news of the day with your spouse is important, but Chandler stressed the importance of designating times of days where the conversation is politics-free.
Rule #5: Recognize the core beliefs you do share.
Micah Leydorf is a former congressional staffer and a conservative married to a liberal. When the divide between her and her husband seems great, she reminds herself that they ultimately share a common belief system.
“We may not agree on many important national policies, but we agree that loving people and loving each other are more important,” she told HuffPost. “We don’t argue when we discuss politics because we are united in our focus on living out our common belief in a loving God. You have to focus more on living out your core beliefs every day instead of just talking about them.”
Rule #6: Value the experience of listening to the other side.
In these hyper-partisan days, most of us consume a media diet that feeds into our preconceived beliefs and biases. Being married to your political opposite forces you to consider the other side’s opinions and hear their latest talking points, said Julia Arnold, a Minnesota-based blogger who’s been married to a conservative for nine years. Yes, she said, sometimes that means she’s forced to watch Fox News.
“The truth is, you may or may not believe that the media is biased, but either way I still find value in spending time with a variety of news outlets,” she said. “The way I see it, it’s helpful, not harmful, to watch and read a variety of media.”
Arnold added that being being married to your political opposite compels you to look at your beliefs and sometimes, even question them.
“Our relationship has made me more open-minded and less judgmental,” she said. “I hope my husband feels the same way. My marriage has made me look at things through more than one lens and I feel lucky for that opportunity.”
The HuffPost Lifestyle newsletter will make you happier and healthier, one email at a time. Sign up here.