published Friday, October 19th, 2012

Leber: My big fat bipartisan romance: How we choose to make it work

With the 2012 presidential election mere weeks away, politics are everywhere. They're on the Internet, they're at the office, and they're in the bedroom.

Earlier this week, I read an article called "How Fox News Destroyed My Marriage."

The story, actually titled "The Bipartisan Marriage," has very little to do with Fox News and a lot to do with respect.

The story caught my eye because I, too, am in a bipartisan relationship.

"It's really subjective," said Joe, when I asked him to rank himself on a political scale. That's the lawyer in him talking, I think.

He acquiesced eventually. Though I won't say exactly where we determined each of us fell on the spectrum, I will say neither of us is an extremist. That certainly helps.

In the aforementioned article, writer Amira Young, otherwise known as La Divorcee Vita, describes her husband's unwillingness to consider viewpoints other than his own and the volatile manner in which he expressed those viewpoints.

"Looking back, it was not the ... values that tore our marriage apart...," she wrote. "It was him -- his anger, his brainwashed attitude and his lack of respect for my opinions."

I am fortunate, then, that my partner and I are generally able to listen to each other, consider different perspectives and disagree civilly.

He's actually a little better at that than I am. I have a tendency to get emotional sometimes.

Unlike Ms. Young's former spouse, Joe is not terribly political, just terribly interested in politics. I'm far more lackadaisical than he is, a fact of which I am not proud. He's constantly seeking to educate himself further.

"I don't like to just look at stuff that I potentially agree with," he said. "I don't find that enlightening or exciting."

Truth? He looks at more stuff he potentially agrees with, but so do I.

And while he enjoys engaging in healthy debate, as do I, we both also know when it's just a fight, whether with each other or with other people. When that happens, it's time to walk away. Or as Joe put it: "You can be adamant and still behave in a noncrazy fashion."

Personally, I don't care for extremism -- or 'behaving in a crazy fashion' -- on either side. If you cannot express your point of view respectfully, and if you're not willing to listen to what the other person has to say before you tell him that he's wrong, why should you be afforded the courtesy you refuse to give?

I try to remember this when Joe and I disagree. I try to pick my battles. I try to fight fair. So does he. We don't always succeed, but then we try to remember to do better next time.

Sure, it would be easier if we agreed on everything. I could state an opinion and he'd applaud my brilliance rather than offering a counterpoint or challenging my perspective. And vice versa. I'm certain we'd both like that sometimes.

I'm also certain it would get really, really boring.

The blog for The Gottman Institute, founded by marriage expert John Gottman, offers some suggestions for coping with political differences. These include:

• Learn why your partner leans the way he or she does.

• Find common ground.

• Agree to disagree

• If necessary, agree upon subtle changes in activity to keep the peace.

• Consider agreeing on topics to avoid.

• Maintain open dialogue.

• Watch for warning signs including intense, frequent disagreements and lack of respect for each other's opinions.

In the end, Young's marriage didn't fail because of politics, but because of how her husband acted in relation to politics.

"I want a man who is educated in his beliefs and can stand up for them properly," she writes, "rather than a brainwashed boy who thinks that getting angry, calling names and repeating the same talking points is political discourse."

In other words, someone who can be adamant and still behave in a noncrazy fashion.

Contact Holly Leber at hleber@timesfreepress.com or (423) 757-6391. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/hollyleber. Subscribe to her on Facebook at facebook.com/holly.j.leber.

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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