Political opposites attract? Local couples make differing views workFARGO - Joe Mitchell remembers meeting girlfriend Whitney Derks’ family for the first time. They talked politics. Joe, a Democrat, saw a photo of Whitney’s grandfather with George W. Bush perched on the mantle. Whitney classifies her political views as “middle of the line, but tending to lean conservative,” but she says her family is conservative.
By: Anna G. Larson, INFORUM
FARGO - Joe Mitchell remembers meeting girlfriend Whitney Derks’ family for the first time. They talked politics.
Joe, a Democrat, saw a photo of Whitney’s grandfather with George W. Bush perched on the mantle. Whitney classifies her political views as “middle of the line, but tending to lean conservative,” but she says her family is conservative.
Whitney and Joe, both of Fargo, have been dating for two years. Tuesday’s election has the pair thinking about their similarities and differences in political views. Whitney says they “agree to disagree” and also try to keep an open mind about political views.
“If people value the relationship, they can figure out a way to agree to disagree,” says Karissa Schmoll, a marriage and family therapist for The Village Family Service Center.
Mutual respect for each other’s opinions is key in a relationship, she says.
“We don’t have to agree with the other’s opinions, but if we want to have a healthy relationship with that person, we should demonstrate respect for what they think,” Schmoll says.
Open mindedness, she says, applies to everything in a relationship, not just politics.
For Whitney and Joe, open mindedness during college and going into their relationship led each of them to shift their political views slightly. Joe says he was once on the “extreme left” and now is a more moderate Democrat, considering himself conservative regarding fiscal matters and liberal concerning social issues. Whitney says her conservative views now tend to be more moderate, or even liberal in some cases.
“To quote Taylor Swift, ‘You don’t know what you don’t know,’ and having an open mind has led to me to have educated opinions,” she says.
Linda and Jerry Jenson, who have been married 34 years, have also been talking politics, although not just recently. Politics have been a frequent discussion topic the last four years.
Linda says it’s because her husband has been “miserable” since Obama was elected.
A self-described “moderate Democrat/leaning independent,” Linda says debates with her Republican husband Jerry can get heated. He agrees.
“She’ll say something, and I’ll ask her for facts to back it up, and if it came from a commentator on CNN, well then …,” Jerry says.
Linda interrupts. “Well then it’s crap, right? If it’s not on Fox, it’s crap, right?”
The duo breaks into laughter – another thing they’ve been doing for 34 years. Linda says laughter is how the couple “makes it work.”
She recalled a joke Jerry played on her in 2004. He told her that all people who vote Democrat were supposed to show up at the polls on Wednesday, not Tuesday.
“We have those serious times, but when we find something to laugh about, it’s fun to howl with laughter,” she says.
The ability to debate in a compassionate, loving way is healthy in a relationship, Schmoll says.
A healthy debate involves “emotional safety.” Karissa explains emotional safety as meaning that either partner can communicate how they feel to the other without fear of a negative response.
While it’s not the case for Jerry and Linda and Whitney and Joe, some couples with very strong opinions might consider different political views deal breakers in a relationship.
“There are people who equate their political views with their basic morals and values, so for those people, drastic political differences could be a deal breaker,” Karissa says. “For others, the relationship is more important than agreeing on politics, and they can agree to disagree.”
Both couples say having similar morals and values trumps political views, although those values and morals intersect with political views sometimes.
“At the end of the day, it’s more about the type of person they are than what they think about paying taxes,” Joe says.
Conviction, no matter what the beliefs, matters most to Whitney.
“If you don’t believe in something, what do you have going for you?” she says. “Even though some of Joe’s views are different from mine, I’m so thankful that he has conviction and that he is aware of what’s going on in the world.”