The past few tumultuous years have polarized many of us into opposing political camps. In previous years couples could weather these differences with little drama. High-profile political operatives even turned their differences into lucrative careers, like James Carville and Mary Matalin. But that was before the 2016 election. Now we often view those who differ with us politically as not just wrong but evil. The overturning of Roe vs. Wade only compounded this phenomenon. And when this happens in a marriage, the result can be life-changing.
According to Wendy Wang, Ph.D., of the Institute for Family Studies, the rate of politically mixed marriages decreased from 2017-2020. And 1 in 10 Americans ended a romantic relationship because of differing political views. People who are dating and deciding on life partners right now can sort themselves according to political views and avoid this clash of values. But what about couples who married years ago before our society was so polarized?
Often political differences exacerbate and highlight disparate values and lifestyle preferences that existed before everyone was divided into different camps. As anyone who has been married awhile can attest--what was cute or charming while you were dating can become insufferable when sharing a life with someone. And differences in values, religion, and politics become that much more acute after children arrive. Suddenly there is a little person that you want to influence with your values and ideally, your partner in this endeavor would share those values. Child rearing is much easier if that is the case!
All these factors combine dramatically in our polarized society making mid-life more complicated than it was before. The 2016 and 2020 elections brought many of our differences with family, friends, even life partners to a head. Fortunately, divorce is not your only option to maintain peace. According to Deidre Wilson, a certified Marriage and Family Therapist in McKinney, TX, "Politically different couples can still have long healthy marriages. If they want to discuss politics successfully, they need to do a good job of finding something legitimate about what their spouse is saying and remain respectful throughout the discussion. Or they might decide their marriage is healthier if they agree to avoid these conversations - reminding themselves this difference is just a small part of their overall relationship".
But what about when you find that your differences are too great to overcome? What if your political differences with your spouse are the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back? The ironic part of divorcing someone, especially if you have children together, is that joint decisions will get harder, and conflict will worsen at least in the short term. If you think it is difficult to raise children with your spouse, it will likely get more difficult when they become your ex-spouse. But divorce can still lead to a more peaceful and happier life if you can find a way to set aside your differences and co-parent effectively. Finding an attorney that increases your peace of mind and lessens drama with your ex is key to surviving the process, especially if there are value differences. An experienced family law attorney will keep you focused on the important things and help you see when minutia can be dismissed. Most importantly, once you hire an attorney you have confidence in, listen to them. You are paying handsomely for their advice but too many people in the middle of a messy divorce want to keep personal score of slights and petty grievances instead of listening to their attorney. Don’t do this! Even worse, some attorneys capitalize on this emotional fragility and exploit it because fighting over things is how attorneys make money. Don’t hire an attorney like this! Look for experienced attorneys who are respected by their peers, will fight for you on the important issues, keep you informed and educated on the issues and stay emotionally uninvolved to add clarity of direction, advice, and potential outcomes through settlement or trial. Attorneys that lead and help you remain focused on your most important goals inevitably provide a better outcome in the divorce, in the future relationship with your ex-spouse if necessary and financially in the amount you spend for the attorney’s services.
Sources: Wendy Wang, “Marriages Between Democrats and Republicans Are Extremely Rare”, Institute for Family Studies, November 3, 2020. ifstudies.org