They say politics makes strange bedfellows. But what if your bedfellow is made of strange politics?
When Democrats and Republicans fall in love with each other, they may find themselves party to a dream ticket … or sleeping with the enemy. The only guarantee in bipartisan relationships is plenty of sparks. And the possibility of “purple” descendants. Cross-party copulating can lead to some tense dinner conversations. (Hey, honey, can you pass the salt … and change your stance on gun control?) But some therapists say disparate political views can actually improve the state of your union.
“It can be very good when two people are of different political affiliations,” says Karen Osterle, a psychotherapist in Washington, D.C. “It’s easy to see the world in black and white terms. I think it’s more interesting to live in the question, to live in the gray. And differences in political opinion can promote that.”
Osterle, who has counseled countless bipartisan couples, says the key is to avoid making assumptions that your partner’s political views reflect his or her feelings toward you. She coaches couples to recognize the moment their political debates degrade into personally contemptuous attacks—and to take a conversation break as soon as that happens.
“There’s a fine line between spirited debate and full-on argument,” she explains.
Jennifer Taggart, an environmental attorney, eco-consultant, and liberal Democrat has plenty of practice balancing within that narrow margin of error. She’s been married to Jud Welcher, a Republican biomechanical engineer, for ten years. The couple, who live near Los Angeles, are careful to pepper their political discussions with detached respect.
“We can debate the issues without making it personal,” says Taggart. “We can listen to each other’s arguments and factual support and even persuade each other.”
Taggart points out that while her husband is a “fundamentalist” Republican, he is by no means socially conservative. “As a professional woman, I couldn’t be with a partner that didn’t believe in equal opportunity for all,” she says. Taggart jokes that their relationship was particularly strained this last election season, “But only because it is so easy to tease him about Sarah Palin.”
Cecelia Dwyer, a twenty-eight-year-old publisher, has also perfected the art of crossing party lines just to get a good-night kiss. The self-described “very liberal” Green Party member raised eyebrows when she married Brandon Paumen, a Republican, two years ago.
Her best friend proclaimed in a wedding toast: “I think the world just changed.”
Dwyer says she and Paumen, who live in St. Cloud, Minnesota, make their marriage work by focusing on honesty, listening, and not trying to change each other. While no topics are officially taboo, conversations about gas and oil drilling can bring out the “snippy” in the couple. “Sometimes we get upset with each other for ‘not understanding,’” Dwyer says. “But Brandon tells me that he loves me regardless of my beliefs, even when he disagrees with me.”
In an odd twist of fate, Paumen, who is socially liberal but “very conservative” when it comes to foreign and economic policy, currently works a fund-raiser for the Democrats, because of the scarcity of jobs in their area. “There’s been a lot of mellowing of him,” Dwyer says with a laugh.
Several high-profile couples have also managed to build bipartisan bedrooms, including Republican insider Mary Matalin and Democratic insider James Carville, as well as Democratic Kennedy progeny Maria Shriver and Republican Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Osterle, the Washington, D.C., psychotherapist, says if politics are causing problems with your partner, it’s usually indicative of a more serious underlying relationship conflict, involving money, communication or sex.
Looks like in the end, things always come down to the politics of your bedroom.