Our nation is swimming in a sea of emotions in the wake of the 2016 election results. In the coming days, week, and months, we will be working– individually and collectively– to make sense of it all. However, for some couples, that reckoning is happening, right now, in the most intimate of spaces—their bedroom. So how can couples who voted differently stand together (and lie down together) during this most trying time?
We know that the essential task of every intimate relationship is the management of difference. Romantic relationships bridge all sorts of differences. This is nothing new. Some couples bridge pragmatic differences. You are a neat freak, your partner not so much. You love action films, your partner prefers foreign films. Some couples bridge cultural differences. You grew up in a working class family, your partner grew up wealthy. Your parents were born in India, your partner’s parents were born in the US.
Some couples bridge political differences.
I have known many couples over the years who routinely cancel each other’s votes in the polling booth, navigating their political differences with a healthy dose of humor an by agreeing to disagree. But this election cycle is different. Our nation is more divided than ever, and this election has put us face to face with profound identity questions— who we are as individuals and who we are as a nation. For many, there is a very deep connection between our vote and our very survival. Therefore, it is much harder for couples who vote differently to bridge that gap. So, if you climb in bed next to someone who voted differently than you, here are some things to keep in mind. In other words, here is what your Hillary-supporting partner needs from you right now:
Permission to feel what she is feeling. Now is not the time for heady dialog or intellectual debate. Give her time and space to feel all of what she is feeling. She is likely riding waves of anger, sadness, and fear. Even if you really want to, do not tell her to calm down, and do not tell her that she is overreacting. Instead, find a way to stay calm on the inside so that you are able to be present with all of her feelings without judgement.
Your humility. The health of your relationship rests on your total and complete absence of smugness. Resist the urge to tell her how it’s better this way. Resist the urge explain your vote to her. Neither of these approaches will work. Instead they will create more distance between you.
An apology. I am not asking you to apologize for your vote. I am asking you to let her know that you are sorry that she is hurting. I am inviting you to ask her what she needs from you. I am inviting you to offer to be of service to her as she struggles to make sense of this new reality.
Your curiosity. Romantic relationships are love classrooms. Again and again we have the opportunity to learn about ourselves through our romantic relationship. Be curious about this chapter of your love story, even if it is a painful one. If your Hillary-supporting partner is a woman and you are a man, take this opportunity to deepen your understanding of her experiences as a woman in this culture. If your Hillary-supporting partner is a person of color and you are not, take this opportunity to learn more about her experiences as a person of color. Your willingness to stay curious is a powerful pathway to greater intimacy.
A shared project. When you boil it down, politics is a vehicle by which we put values into action. Return to the values you share as a couple and make a plan for how you can embody them together. Feed people who are homeless. Volunteer at an animal shelter. Pray side-by-side. Finding a shared project is a path that puts you and your partner back on the same team. It is vital right now for her to feel like you have her back. It is vital right now for her to feel that you are in her corner.
Today, more than ever, the health of your romantic relationship rests upon your ability to be tender. Stay open. Stay curious. Reach for your partner.
Read more Loving Bravely on Psychology Today.