We Can’t Talk About Religion or Politics. Can This Be Fixed?

We Can't Talk About Religion or Politics. Can This Be Fixed?

My husband and I have been married for over 10 years and have a good marriage and great discussions, except when it’s about religion or politics.  He’s a Catholic and very conservative and I’m atheist and very liberal.  We enjoy bantering about issues on both topics but he finds it necessary to cram his opinions down my throat (and frankly, he can be very narrow-minded). When this happens, I often agree with him to end the discussion or shut down and feel incredibly defensive.  When I shut down or get defensive, we end up not speaking for days. Childish, I know.  I’ve spent years trying to understand his opinions and views but I’ve never felt like he is open to my way of thinking. How do I overcome this hurdle and learn to have healthy discussions on these topics and not always agree? Or is it better to just steer clear?

Sophie

I’m an amateur sociologist. I’m fascinated by studies of people, how we think, what our blind spots are, and how to overcome them. Some of my favorite books in the past few years are about heuristics and behavioral economics, “How We Decide” by Jonah Lehrer, “Predictably Irrational” by Dan Ariely, “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman, “Nudge” by Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler, and “The Paradox of Choice” by Barry Schwartz. (Why all of these books are by Jewish men is a completely different question.)

Anyway, after reading all of these books, I’m increasingly conscious of something called “confirmation bias”. With confirmation bias, people seek out news sources that reinforce what they already believe. When we find a source that contradicts what we believe, we immediately turn it off, get angry, or try to discredit the source. Picture liberals watching Fox or conservatives watching MSNBC for an idea of what I’m suggesting.

Now, I do my best to be even-handed with my advice and leave my personal beliefs out of things. Sometimes I fail, but I hope that you can concede, at the very least, that I attempt to present an objective model of reality. It’s not about what I want to be true; it’s about what is true. It’s not about “right and wrong”; it’s about “effective vs. ineffective” and so on.

Recently, I got into a few tiffs with readers on my Facebook page (follow me, we can argue with each other!) One disagreement occurred when I posted a study that showed that holding out before having sex was a good idea and that having no-string-attached sex didn’t make women happier in the aggregate.

In the other study, a group of married men were told to be 100% agreeable with their wives. Instead of being happy with this, the wives got bossy and power-hungry, quickly destroying their husbands’ self-esteem.

In both examples, readers who felt personally indicted attacked the study. If you’re a sex-positive woman who likes to sleep with men on the first date, how DARE anyone tell you that for the majority of other women, it’s not a good idea? If you’re a proud woman, how DARE anyone suggest that women don’t respect conciliatory men? That can’t be true! There must be something wrong with the study!

I know science isn’t perfect. I know people have agendas. But I’m not one of them. My only agenda is to get to the truth. A few months ago, a study came out that said that women didn’t want men picking them up for first dates. I thought this was a shame and I said so – much to the disagreement of my readers. But I never attempted to refute the study. Whether I like it or not, the study reflected the reality that women are mistrustful of men. SHOULD they be that fearful? Personally, I don’t think so, but I can’t change reality.

Which brings us back to Sophie, with the intransigent conservative husband.

Needless to say, I’m not surprised, since conservatives are, in fact, more likely to view compromise as a bad thing. Feel free to read this lengthy article for a more thorough explanation. Here are the big takeaways:

Conservatives, argues researcher Philip Tetlock of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, are less tolerant of compromise…

A 41 percent plurality of Republicans surveyed in a USA Today-Gallup poll shortly after the November 2010 election said that political leaders should stand firm in their beliefs even if little gets done, compared to just 18 percent of Democrats. Nearly three fifths of Democrats, 59 percent, said leaders should be willing to compromise to get things done, compared to just 31 percent of Republicans.

A similar Wall Street Journal/NBC poll conducted in early December 2010, found that Democrats believe that elected officials should “make compromises to gain consensus on legislation,” as opposed to “stick[ing] to their positions even if this means not being able to gain consensus,” by a margin of 63-29, while Republicans were split, 47-47.

No one wants to be told that they’re “wrong”. Everyone wants to be listened to and respected.

Is it possible that these studies were biased? In the realm that anything is possible, I suppose. Is it possible that this is a big liberal media conspiracy? Not really. If we assume Occam’s Razor – that the simplest answer is the right one – then in a statistically significant sample culled by respected news outlets – Gallup, Wall St. Journal, NBC – conservatives are simply less likely to believe in compromise.

If you’re a conservative and you’re reading this right now, a few things:

  1. I didn’t make these studies up.
  2. I have conservative friends and married into a conservative family. (yes, it’s the “some of my best friends” defense!)
  3. I think conservatives have many valuable ideas that liberals can co-opt.
  4. I did not say that YOU can’t compromise or that NO conservatives can compromise.

Literally, all I did was report the results of a poll that said, in the aggregate, that conservatives are less likely to believe in compromise. So if you’re getting angry and instead of believing the study, want to argue with me and REFUTE the study, you’re suffering from confirmation bias.

This the only reason I’ve hijacked Sophie’s easy question – not to make a political point, but to make a behavioral one that you can apply to dating. No one wants to be told that they’re “wrong”. Everyone wants to be listened to and respected. While Sophie claims to try to understand her husband, Sophie’s husband doesn’t attempt to understand her.

If Sophie were a devout Christian with an outspoken intolerant atheist husband, I’d come to the same conclusion. But she’s not.

Listen, Sophie, I’m just like you. I’m a liberal and I take delight in the discussion of ideas. I don’t get upset at debate or disagreement. I like learning from others, especially if they’re well-informed and have a different perspective. My wife’s best friend’s husband, in particular, is a successful businessman and staunch Republican and I pick his brain every chance I get. But, after unintentionally pissing a lot of people off, I realized that other people can’t handle such disagreements. It’s either too personal (“if you disagree with me, you don’t respect me”) or it’s too futile because some folks refuse to even listen to dissenting opinions.

In such cases, literally the ONLY thing to do is agree to never talk about religion and politics. Personally, I find that really hard to do, which is why I can be happily married to my moderate wife (who doesn’t judge me), but have been warned not to open my mouth around her conservative family.

If you value your marriage more than you value your politics, you will both agree to disagree, cancel each others’ votes out, and pretty much never talk about it again.

I would love to have an informed conversation with them about our differences – maybe learn something I didn’t know, maybe teach them that liberals aren’t so bad. But I can’t, because they don’t want to hear it. Your husband doesn’t want to hear it, Sophie.

So if you value your marriage more than you value your politics, you will both agree to disagree, cancel each others’ votes out, and pretty much never talk about it again.

Would it be nice if you could have an interesting, open-minded discussion about religion and politics? Sure. But if the comments coming my way are any indication, I’d be shocked if you’d be able to… :)

P.S. I asked my more conservative wife if I should post this. She thought that conservatives would tune me out even though I didn’t judge conservatives at all. I told her that my readers were smart enough to understand that I was writing about how we all have confirmation bias, and that the best we can do is recognize it and minimize it. Prove me right, okay?

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Comments:

  1. 1
    Selena

    From the letter: I’ve spent years trying to understand his opinions and views but I’ve never felt like he is open to my way of thinking. How do I overcome this hurdle and learn to have healthy discussions on these topics and not always agree? Or is it better to just steer clear?
     
    You argue about these topics and then don’t speak to each other for days. For the life of me I don’t understand why you didn’t opt to steer clear 10 years ago.  What are you getting out of these petty arguments year after year? Examine that.
     
     

    1. 1.1
      Skaramouche

      I can explain this one pretty easily!  Each one hopes the other will have changed a bit…changed his/her style of arguing, changed his/her opinion, changed how far he/she is willing to go on a compromise.  Is it foolish?  Sometimes, yes.  Sometimes, no.  The longer my husband and I are together, the more we habituate ourselves to the other’s style of arguing and over time we’re getting better at navigating the murky waters.  He knows what will set me off and I know what not to do if I don’t want the argument to last all night.  Doesn’t mean we agree on everything but at least we’re getting better at finding common ground.  Sadly, OP and her husband don’t seem to have gotten to this point after 10 years.

      1. 1.1.1
        Selena

        From the letter:  My husband and I have been married for over 10 years and have a good marriage and great discussions, except when it’s about religion or politics.
         
        So why not stick to the great discussions that don’t involve religion or politics?  After 10 years they know how they both feel on these issues, yet they still continue to squabble over them. This is why I think she/they are getting something out of the arguing itself and the subsequent silent treatment.

  2. 2
    JustWondering

    Thank you, Evan, I just had an epiphany
    I have two sides when it comes to communication. Often I am quite curious about other people’s opinions and at least able to see where the other Person is coming from. Even if I don’t share it, I will accept their point of view.
    But at other times there is really no arguing with me. Then I am incredibly stubborn and able to riddle another person with verbal bullets because they don’t share my opinion (and I am angry at them for days afterwards). I have always hated such people. Yet I am one of them! Beeep!
    I have not been aware of this beforehand, at least not so acutely. So, thank you for giving me this epiphany, however you did it. I will watch my way to communicate closer now.

  3. 3
    Yuri

    How funny that you bring this up today. I just had a close friend from out of town over for dinner, and it was her first time meeting my boyfriend of two years. She asked him if he liked Obama. Knowing she was a staunch Republican and devout Christian, he hesitated in response. He feared this very same disagreement.  I responded for him stating that we don’t debate politics at the table even though he is a Democrat. 
    She got her answer knowing full well we would not be arguing about it. My boyfriend isn’t fond of arguments just as I dont much care for confirmation bias. I discuss politics and/or religion when I know there are open ears listening. Seeking to prove your point to others in these two subjects is a waste of time. This is your belief structure being questioned – the essence of who you are. It has been formed over years of experience and environmental influences. 
    I may ask, but I never question. I’ve never felt that it has been my place unless it infringes upon my personal liberties. If you ask, I will answer.  If you question, I will walk away. Why bother? I’m tired of trying to make people understand my beliefs. I understand them. It’s enough. 
    He doesn’t have to agree. It’s not his perspective to hold. He already has one. It’s nice that you understand his, but it’s not required. Let it goooooo…

  4. 4
    Sabine

    Some people need to be “right” about everything. They “brow beat” you about snowfall and other random, non-important stuff. I am curious if Sophie’s husband is so particular about other viewpoints (football vs basketball, onions vs. garlic, law vs. order). I’m not trying to make light of this, maybe it is part of his personality. I am easy going but I like  (rather need) to be heard. In my last relationship, I was neither heard or respected when it came tommy opinions (he was a super ultra conservative while I am moderate) hence one of the reasons for its demise. So I believe in soul mates, holistic healing, juicing and laughing 100 times a day.  Yes, it’s important to me and part of my persona just don’t mock my opinions to the point where you are really making fun of me. Do I want to be with a man who is my clone? No. However for me, I want someone who respects my opinions regardless.
     
    I agree that for Sophie, religion and politics are off the table, out the door and in the neighbors yard. If she feels she needs an outlet to express opinions, she could blog or talk to friends who agree with her. Hopefully, this is the only thing her husband is being difficult about in their chats. As for not speaking for days, they should find a way to resolve this anger before it really becomes something in their marriage.

  5. 5
    Yogagurl

    OMG, Evan, interesting how you turned your answer into a put down of conservatives rather than helping the OP!  Just for the record, in my world, the liberal crowd is HAND’S down the most intolerant of others who do not hold their views. Conservatives are used to being beaten up and more quiet.  Every single day on Facebook I encounter some jibe, some rudeness towards conservatives.  In my personal life I’ve known so many liberals who will not budge and will instantly dislike someone they had previously liked because they found out they are not a liberal Democrat.  I wish the OP well.  I had this issue with my bf but now it is worked out. I wish her the same.

    (Okay, so it took six comments before someone ignored the point of the blog – confirmation bias. That’s better than I expected! – EMK)

    1. 5.1
      Morris

      I think people are mistaking intolerance with not wanting to compromise.  Socially I lean left.  And fiscally lean right.  I’m well aware that studies show that liberals are less tolerant of opposing views.  But conservatives are in fact less willing to compromise.  Conservatives have values rooted in religion, traditional family and small government.  These things don’t change with popular opinion.(Just look up conservative.  It will have ‘cautious of change’ somewhere in there.)  Tolerance or lack thereof has nothing to do with willingness to compromise.

    2. 5.2
      Audrey

      Evan, I love Ariely and will have to check out the other authors you mention. I love the answer you gave and especially the answer that I am replying to right now about a record. I searched for something about conservatives and liberals which is how I wound up here, but I will have to ask my question I fear.

  6. 6
    Karl S

    Evan – If you like reading about cognitive biases, you might enjoy a book called “The Believing Brain” by Michael Shermer. In his section on Liberalism vs Conservatism, Shermer cheekily notes the liberal bias of most academic social scientists, citing several studies that reveal how only a small percentage of college and university professors nationwide identify themselves as conservative. This in turn affects the very discourse and framework for descriptors used in research papers for social science.
    Biases everywhere, hehe. :D

    1. 6.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      I know Shermer – he’s a libertarian, so I’m not surprised at his findings. I also think that there’s nothing wrong with having opinions or biases. The trick is learning to be tolerant of others’ who disagree and trying to see the validity in their point of view, and at the very worst, agree to disagree, instead of escalating into conflict. That’s what I do as a dating coach and what I try to do as a husband.

      1. 6.1.1
        Shaukat

        Evan, also on the issue of confirmation bias and the bounding of debate in society, you might enjoy “Manufacturing Consent” by Noam Chomsky (Yes, another Jewish male). Although quite dense and dry at times, it is worth the read in my opinion. He argues, based on his analysis of US media publications over an extended period of time, that the ‘liberal’ vs. ‘conservative’ dichotomy is in many ways a smokescreen, since both fall within the same framework of unquestioned assumptions. This is especially true  in a society based on private concentrations of power, where all the ‘news that’s fit to print’ is driven by ownership patterns and the needs of advertisers, and has nothing to do with the biases of academics or individual journalists. 

  7. 7
    melie

    I agree. We are biased as humans. We want affirmation that there are more just like us. Msturity and intelligence dictate that we should be open minded to new or different ideoligies, but often feel threatened by them.  Good call. Just dont iscuss it.

  8. 8
    Henriette

    Yuri @4 stated it better than I could.   My politics and religion are reflections of my world view, my cultural heritage, my education, my nature, my nurture: the essence of who I am.  If someone is genuinely curious about my beliefs, I try to answer.  But it is very rare that a person simply wants to know what I think and feel; rather, there is almost always an undertone of judgement, challenge, dismissiveness or attack.  
     
    I’m guessing that while Sophie claims  that she tries to understand her husband’s views, the manner in which she discusses these matters conveys anything but a neutral desire to comprehend his side.   Best agree to disagree and stop goading each other.

  9. 9
    amydkl

    I wonder what people think about DATING someone with opposite views on religion and politics. I myself had to choose whether I wanted someone religious (Jewish) and right wing or secular and left wing and in the end I chose my politics over religion (he’s still Jewish but anti-religious). I don’t think I could be married to someone who had such different values than me (my husband and I agree on politics and most social values). 
    Is it wrong to date someone based on their politics? I feel like men don’t care about women’s politics as much as women care about men’s (if  that makes any sense).

  10. 10
    Donna

    Exactly, Yogagurl (5).  Evan will probably say that we are simply demonstrating confirmation bias, but here goes.  I work in a University setting where almost everyone is liberal to very liberal.  Those of us who are moderate, conservative, or libertarian have learned to keep out mouths shut.  I seldom discuss politics with anyone, but have seen firsthand that the more liberal someone is, the more you will be put down if you have other viewpoints.  Liberals can be very open-minded….unless you disagree with them.

    1. 10.1
      PGL

      How interesting…I am a moderate and I work in the opposite environment than you; conservative, republican, Christian, 96% men. And I do the exact same thing as you and I still get accused of being a liberal and a “tree-hugger” just because I live in CA (my coworkers are from all over the US) and recycle. I prefer not to get into conversations with my coworkers over any political, religious, women’s rights, environmental subjects because they will go on and on about how wrong I am and how out of control my “side” is. I think the behavior you’re describing has more to do with the fact that one view is in the majority which makes those people more likely to be outspoken. 

  11. 11
    Yuri

    Yogagurl @5

    Ok, so before everybody comes and rips apart your commentary on liberals, I’ll just link this article here:  http://www.theamericanconservative.com/open-minded-conservatives-prejudiced-liberals/

    Let’s not mince words here, it was a bit of a bash on liberals.  Not offended because I’m not a liberal…or a conservative for that matter.  Truth is, part of your argument is correct.  Liberals can be very close-minded, ESPECIALLY when they’re in their element.  In DC, where I currently live, I am surrounded by liberals.  It’s easier to stand up for your beliefs and ostracize an individual because they are different if you’re in a pack of like-minded people (aka liberals).
     
    But then we’ll take it back to where I grew up – Alabama and Tennessee.  I might as well be excommunicated from my town for being a liberal.  It’s a traditionally conservative area – hard to fight the Bible Belt when there’s a church on every block.  Being Asian was hard enough down there!  If you’re Atheist or gay, you just kept that to yourself…that’s just how it was.

    So, honestly, it really does depend on where you live.  If you’re a conservative living in a liberal city, pack mentality tells you they will gang up on you because they can win – and it will affirm all that confirmation bias.  No one is going to tell them they’re wrong because everybody thinks YOU are.  But the same is also true for conservatives in conservative cities.  When you’re the big man on campus, you follow or you get shut down.

    Now, I’m sorry that you’ve had bad experiences with liberals.  That truly is a shame.  One look at my Facebook feed, though, and it’s riddled with comments ranging from “mindless liberals” to “brainwashed Obama supporters”.  It’s all those conservative Tennessee friends I have.  And don’t even get me started on my father’s rants on me after watching Glenn Beck as if I murdered every American citizen for not supporting the Republicans during the Obama campaign – I didn’t even say anything!!!

    I don’t much care for getting yelled at or bashed for having differing political affiliations so I understand your contempt.  When it happens, I just ignore it because what the hell am I going to do?  Change a mind?  Never going to happen.  But…I’m just wondering…Why do you even care what Evan posts about conservatives?  Be proud and shrug it off.   Liberals will say conservatives are prejudice just like you said liberals are prejudice.  Who cares?  Either they want to understand or they don’t.  
     
    I do not care.  Haters gonna hate.  I’mma do me and you do you.

  12. 12
    Jen

    Funny how so many (mostly liberal) academics love to study confirmation bias, but are completely blind to their own.  Any weather event now is ‘proof’ of global warming.
    Could it be that Republicans, sick of their politicians compromsing on things like spending more money than will ever be able to be paid back in our lifetimes, think there should be a little more backbone involved in the process?  And liberals, who get so much compromise out of them, therefore think compromise is a fantastic thing, and Republicans should do even more of it?  Republicans do nothing BUT compromise and capitulate, unless they are in the Tea Party.  And we all know those people are horrible uncompromising racists. At least that is a convenient way for liberals to refer to them, rather than dealing with the substance of what they have to say.
    The question of what you are willing to compromise on matters in a relationship as well as in politics and I don’t understand the notion that compromise is always good.  If your spouse constantly spouts views that you find intolerable, does that make you a bad person for not wanting to deal with it?  Should you really ignore these types of differences, for instance if your spouse laughs along with the MSNBC hosts who mock Mitt Romney’s black grandchild?  Or enthusiastically follows a religion that says your gay brother is going to hell?  I guess there are plenty of relationships that work where there are significant differences in these areas, but to me they seem to work on a more superficial level, and ideally you would want someone who embraces your deeper values to have a true soul mate.  Or least you are not so far apart that you could not see the other’s perspective and they see yours.

    1. 12.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      Okay, conservatives, I’m going to assume you’re very bright, but that you’re missing the point. The point isn’t that liberals are “better” or even more “tolerant” than conservatives (although, as I always say, it’s not intolerant if you’re intolerant of intolerance). This is simply about a number of studies that verify what our own eyes (and Congress) already confirms: conservatives are less likely to believe in compromise. You can refute it like Donna by claiming that liberal academics don’t want to hear conservative opinions (true, but irrelevant). You can play the domineering liberals are bad card like Jen (less true and less relevant). Or you can play the straw man card like Jen also did, by suggesting I said that “compromise is always good”. Well, technically you’re right, Jen compromising with terrorists and Nazis is not always good. But compromising on a budget deal is good, as opposed to shutting down the government when you don’t get your way, etc, etc.

      What I didn’t want was for this thread to get political, since (again), that’s not the point. Please don’t defend Republicans or trash liberals. Focus on the question: could you be respectful of a guy like me – well-versed, reasonable, and liberal…or would you find my point of view intolerable? If the former, then we should have nothing to argue about. If the latter, you’ve proven my point. :)

      1. 12.1.1
        AllHeart

        Simply watching and paying attention to our political system and how both Democracts and Republicans interact, I can soundly say that neither know the meaning of compromise.  However, our media tends to largely be very libral and shows a strong biased to liberal and Democratic viewpoints. 
        There is a great book that explores the human mind and the inner workings of society due to our human minds. It’s called “Creativity Revealed” by Scott Jeffrey. 
        I have a theory that people who call others “close-minded” are close-minded themsevles in some ways. We often don’t like to think of ourselves that way but we all have certain ideas that have been challenged by others.
        There are certainly people who can make a marriage work when ones believes in God and the other doesn’t, however, in most cases, I do believe that having some kind of belief in God, even if you have different religions, is an important commonality to have. People who are in relationships where one believes in God and one doesn’t are even more difficult that people who may more simply just have different religious beliefs. 
         

        1. Evan Marc Katz

          Nonsense, AllHeart. I’m in such a relationship right now. As long as neither party tries to impose his/her beliefs on the other, everything is just fine. People who believe in God really overstate the importance of believing in God, which is, frankly, only a mark of their own intolerance towards nonbelievers. Personally, I don’t give a crap about what you think happens to us when we die and don’t waste any time trying to convince you of my beliefs. Because neither my wife nor I choose to be “right”, our respective beliefs are a non-issue.

      2. 12.1.2
        Chance

        Evan,
         
        I think what proves the point of confirmation bias the most is that you, yourself, have exhibited confirmation bias in your blog post.  The LW writes about her husband (who happens to be conservative) who is unwilling to budge on political beliefs, and you note that this isn’t surprising because conservatives are less likely to believe in compromise.  Therefore, you tied the fact that he is unwilling to compromise to the fact that he’s conservative, and you have a study to back it up.
         
        However, absent the performance of a regression analysis using various possible explanatory variables (such as sex, race, religion/religious denomination, age, geography, socioeconomic status, political beliefs, other personality traits, etc.) to the dependent variable (being the willingness to compromise) to see what has the tightest fit, it’s hard to really understand the driving force behind her husband’s hardheadedness.  One could just as easily say he is unwilling to compromise because he’s male, or because he is Catholic, and they could find a study out there to back it up.  Of course, these aforementioned variables can influence political beliefs – this is where the math can get a little complicated.
         
        This doesn’t mean that you are wrong or that the study is biased or inaccurate – far from it.  What I’m trying to say is that I agree with you.  Confirmation bias is something that is so pervasive in our thought process that it’s hard to avoid, even when we’re writing a blog post on the subject.  In fact, it’s impossible to avoid IMO.  I probably exhibit confirmation bias at least fifty times per day with no conscious knowledge of it.
         
        As far as the advice you provided:  spot on.

        1. Evan Marc Katz

          There is absolutely a confirmation bias on this blog, mostly in the articles I choose to post. I have never seen a study that suggests that men don’t compromise or Catholics don’t compromise, but I have seen a few about conservatives. So it’s hard to get around your own biases. But, at the very least, I attempt to acknowledge my biases and allow respectful dissent in the comments. Despite my avowed liberal atheist bent, I’m surprised at how many conservative readers I have, which, I suppose is a good thing.

  13. 13
    Joe

    Yuri has it 100% correct.  Your perception of the presence of bias is largely in your environment.  Evan had it correct in his response to the LW–liberals watching Fox News, and conservatives watching MSNBC will both perceive bias.
     
    Donna, if you leave your academic realm and head into something like shooting sports, I guarantee you that your views will be right at home.

  14. 14
    Isobel

    It seems as is some of the replies are demonstrating the point of the original post, i.e., tolerance and respect for others!
    I totally ‘get’ Sophie’s problem, as I have (had) this with my husband. Sadly, it got too much to bear and we split early December 2013 and I moved out. What is interesting is that the things that attracted me to him appear to be the things that drove me away. He is kind, caring, spiritual, and open to sharing himself with anyone who needs it. Trouble is, he doesn’t know when to stop, especially when it came to religion, and it became that I felt suffocated by him, where the only way to prevent conflict and upset was to shut up asap. Being told I didn’t meditate ‘enough’, or ‘not properly’, or that I had no spiritual awareness, or my not believing in God was a sign of illness and needed therapy – it just got too much. He says Ego is the most harmful thing in the universe yet, his ego would not allow him to respect my views, which did not include saying his views were wrong. He believed I needed therapy, mainly because I would get either frustrated and angry or frustrated and silent, because I never felt heard/accepted/understood.
    Now, having disagreements online is one thing, even if it gets a bit heated, that’s OK. But, we are talking about a marriage, the person you live and sleep with, who you are supposed to be closer to than anyone else on the planet. Saying “just shut it” about whether or not you like the new curtains is probably good advice but, it doesn’t do where expressing and exploring fundamental aspects of what makes you…You. For my part, I felt in a no-win situation inasmuch as if I did suppress any interest or activity in what matters to me (and he complained if I blogged or commented on the internet BTW) then I would be suppressing what makes me Me, and if I did express myself I would end up feeling attacked, belittled, and disrespected. And no, he wouldn’t go to couples sessions, as he felt he was OK, and I was the one with the problem.
    It is profoundly sad, I am still raw and in pain. But, I do know that if I had stayed, I would have been eroded as a person.

    1. 14.1
      pearlygirl

      Oh Nissa, I so get you.  I have been accused of  my dismissing of much of the self help industry as a testament of how “broken” I am.  I am not against self help but so many people in it are really distressing to be around. When people have been working on themselves anyone who is not where they are is in denial or damaged.   I’ve taken seminars with some big names with the best of hopes and intentions of finding genuine help.  I was  surprised at how their ego blinded them and how intolerant they were about something that might (just might) modify or contradict where they were at in their journey.  I’ve had to learn that it’s about the message and that the messenger is all to human. 
      As much as you are hurting, it will be okay. I’ve been in your place where I felt attacked, belittled and disrespected.  I am still in the midst of healing.  It is hard to stay confident, strong, and beautiful in that atmosphere.  Funny that you should use the word eroded.  You know that the irresistible force beats the immovable object because it wears it away.

      1. 14.1.1
        Isobel

        Bless you, Pearlygirl. Those are kind and encouraging words. It helps that you understand why this was an untenable situation for me. x

        1. pearlgirl

          It is not uncommon for people to believe that they are far ahead of others and it is the duty of the rest to catch up.  However, a truly advanced person understands that everyone is where they are capable of being at that moment in their journey.  There is a difference between waiting patiently for others to grow in their own time and waiting impatiently for them to be where you want them to be.  Whenever you feel that you are more “advanced” and therefor more superior than others who “don’t get it”, you have gone to the back of the line. 
          From the sufi poet, Rumi
          Some go first, and others come long afterward.  God blesses both and all in line and replaces what has been consumed and provides for those who work the soil of helpfulness and blesses every messenger and prophet

  15. 15
    Nissa

     Evan says: Focus on the question: could you be respectful of a guy like me – well-versed, reasonable, and liberal…or would you find my point of view intolerable?
    I could be respectful as long as I felt respected. If I felt attacked or belittled… not so much. But Amydkl #9 makes a good point in suggesting that women care more about the politics of their partner than men do (IMO men care much more about appearance & attitude) and wondering about dating a man who has opposite politics.
    I think (as a committed religious person) I would be open to dating someone of any religion so that I could determine how closely his values and practices mirrored mine. Would he be willing to do daily devotional practices? Is his level of religious commitment the same as mine? (If one is very committed and other lax, I’d say that’s not a match in terms of priorities). Do both our religions honor our personal priorities?
    While it is easy to respect the views of those who are not our partner, I can see where it would cause difficulty in activities of daily living with your partner if you are not congruous. It makes for different choices when considering yes or no on many things: kids, drugs, sexual permissiveness, birth control, food choices, entertainment choices (gambling, porn), priority level for charity work, hours allocated to religious practice.

    1. 15.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      “Would he be willing to do daily devotional practices?”

      Um, that is not really being respectful of dissent. That’s asking someone to “mirror” your level of religious commitment. That’s your prerogative, of course. Just know that you severely restrict the number of potential partners in the universe when you insist that your partner be in lockstep with you on that. When you don’t insist on it, you have the freedom to fall in love with many more people – which is how my moderate, Catholic wife fell for her liberal, Jewish atheist husband. I’m a dating coach, so I preach openness, since I practice it myself.

  16. 16
    Julia

    Liberal here, I personally only date liberals because I need my partner’s values to be similar to my own. Politics are values. So I just wanted to bring up the very famous political couple James Carville and Mary Matalin have a new book out “Love & War.” They were on Real Time with Bill Maher on Friday night, basically they don’t discuss politics, or animals for that matter because they love one another and they don’t want to tarnish their very good marriage with their very opposing political views. Might want to check it out.

  17. 17
    SAL9000

    The issue isn’t conservatives aren’t so good at “compromise,” the issue is conservatives aren’t so keen at letting liberals force their views onto them (i.e., being “open minded”). To mention another family of presumably well-known socio-political studies, conservatives have been shown to be happier people. The core of this is they don’t look to validate themselves by forcing their views onto others or otherwise aren’t validating themselves in the collective – they generally take motivation and validation from the self. Trying to control or predicate your happiness on that which you can’t is a recipe for misery.
    Sophie’s complaint (“force his opinions down my throat” + “can be very narrow minded” + “never felt like he’s open to my way of thinking”) is a result of her failure to control that which she can’t – the property of someone’s mind. So, yes, the advice given is spot on – the only rational and practical solution is for Sophie to “steer clear” of trying to control her husband’s opinions on these two topics, which by extension translates into steering clear of discussing said topics altogether.

    1. 17.1
      Isobel

      I don’t read Sophie’s grievance as her failing to control the property of her husband’s mind. It seems to me she is unhappy because he does not allow her her own property of mind in a respectful and mature way. We can hold different – even opposing – views but, in a marriage there has to be a boundary that demonstrates loving acceptance without anyone feeling compromised.

      1. 17.1.1
        SAL9000

        He does not allow? It is she that is writing for advice because he “cram(s) his opinions down my throat” + “he can be very narrow-minded” + “I’ve never felt like he is open to my way of thinking.”  To me that isn’t anything other than she doesn’t like what he thinks and wants to change it.

  18. 18
    Evan Marc Katz

    Easy to say, SAL. Not necessarily true. If I’m curious and respectful of your views, and you’re dismissive and rude about mine, that’s not me trying to “control” you; that’s me trying to be “understood and respected” by you. I’m big on understanding and respect, which is why I have no problem with these dissenting comments, but am quick to ban anyone who insults me in this same space. See the difference?

    1. 18.1
      SAL9000

      In specific, after 10+ years of marriage what other reason is there to discuss already-known positions on hot button topics, other than to try to control or critique (which is implied control) what the other person thinks? If curiosity + respect was truly the aim, seems to me the issue is the fundamentals of the marriage, not that they shouldn’t talk about hot button topics.
      In general, there aren’t any unknown underpinnings in the numerous hot button topics, and not wanting to answer your clarification questions, or not asking clarification questions about your position, IMO isn’t disrespect or lack of curiosity -  in the vast majority of cases these hot button topics have zero relevancy to the relationship at hand, and nothing is gained from their discussion other than animus and angst.

  19. 19
    John

    I like a discussion regarding politics if the other person is knowledgeable. If they aren’t knowledgeable about politics, then their opinion is worthless to me and not worth having the discussion. When a famous radio personality asked a bunch of black Americans if they were voting for Obama because he was black or because they agreed on his stance on the issues, they stated race had nothing to do with it and that it was his stance on the issues. The follow up question to them was “Do you think Sarah Palin as his running mate will hurt Obamas chances?”. The same people said they didn’t think she would hurt his chances. So that’s an example of someone who I wouldn’t have a political discussion with.
     
    But I would have a discussion with Evan or James Carville because even though they are polar opposite of me in the political issues, they are knowledgeable and I can respect their opinion even though I don’t agree. But the respect level would be there sine they know the issues.
     
     

    1. 19.1
      SAL9000

      Why would you want to have a political discussion with a person that has polar opposite (and knowledgeable) positions?

      1. 19.1.1
        Joe

        Um, because you might learn something?

        1. Julia

          And because sometimes its fun? I’ve learned things from having discussions with knowledgeable conservatives. More importantly, I’ve learned that they might care deeply about the same things I do but might approach the cause slightly differently. But for a marriage, someone who is knowledgeable and as liberal as I am, I couldn’t spend my life with someone who felt strongly conservative.

  20. 20
    Kurwenal

    I’m not a mental health professional, but it seems to me that the issue here has absolutely nothing to do with religion or politics. 
    Here’s what the late Dr. William Glasser says about power, which he calls the second psychological need in his amazing little book, Staying Together (1995):  “[T]he minimum is that someone we care about, usually our partner, listens to us.  If we don’t have that, almost all of us struggle to get it and, if this struggle persists, we stop loving our partner. … // I believe the greatest obstacle to a happy marriage is the inability of one or both partners to satisfy their need for power in the relationship.  It is rarely the lack of love that destroys relationships.  It is more that love cannot take root in a relationship in which one or both of the partners believe they have too little or no power.  //  For a relationship to succeed, the partners must also be friends. … More than anything else, friendship is based on equal power, and equal power is based on listening to each other, really paying attention.  There is no other way.”

  21. 21
    Goldberry

    Oh my.  I’m glad you posted on this.  One of my great joys in life is having an open-minded discussion with people who have different views.  Like you, I really enjoy understanding where other people are coming from and figuring out the fundamental philosophical differences.  I also like trying to convince someone that my view is right to see what arguments they’ll come up with.  It gives me food for thought.
    However, over the years I’ve come to the same conclusion, that most people (especially my sister and her husband) just can’t take it.  These two think that I’m “intolerant” because I like to discuss controversial issues or make a challenging “conversation starter” statement.  To them it’s not a conversation starter, it’s a conversation ender.
    I’m not “liberal” or “conservative”.  I am very devout in my faith and moral views, and have other views that are considered liberal.  I don’t enjoy being in groups that have the echo chamber effect (confirmation bias) no matter where they’re coming from.  It’s stultifying and thwarts logical thought…  Unless of course you believe that our views really should be chosen based on what “everyone else thinks” rather than true thought.
    “I just can’t believe those ___ could think that way.  What is wrong with them?  It’s so obvious that everything we ___ think is automatically right, because we are the ones who think it!  And anyone who dares to question that is just wrong!..  Yes, you’re right, I think so too!  Good for us!”

    1. 21.1
      Isobel

      I agree! Or is that confirmation bias LOL?!
      What I mean is I agree that some people find it difficult to embrace other opinions or ways of thinking as it shakes their belief and maybe disturbs what they hold to be true. I am not like that, I enjoy hearing a range of opinions and sharing knowledge but, it does not necessarily mean I change my mind about things. Even if I do, so what? I don’t know why some folk have that degree of insecurity that prevents them taking on board other perspectives but, it is frustrating when you are then seen as the intolerant, intransigent one. That way lies unhealthy conflict, I have come to recognise.

  22. 22
    LEjohns

    @Evan

    “Focus on the question: could you be respectful of a guy like me – well-versed, reasonable, and liberal…or would you find my point of view intolerable? If the former, then we should have nothing to argue about. If the latter, you’ve proven my point.”

    To answer your question, I don’t know that I would call it “respect” but I certainly agree that reasonable people should be able to converse civilly; that is in a courteous, polite manner.

    “Despite my avowed liberal atheist bent, I’m surprised at how many conservative readers I have, which, I suppose is a good thing.”

    “Now, I do my best to be even-handed with my advice and leave my personal beliefs out of things. Sometimes I fail, but I hope that you can concede, at the very least, that I attempt to present an objective model of reality. It’s not about what I want to be true; it’s about what is true. It’s not about “right and wrong”; it’s about “effective vs. ineffective” and so on.”

    If I may venture a guess, based on my own case, this attitude comes through in most of your posts I’ve seen and I would say that is probably the primary reason you have “many conservative readers.”

    “The point isn’t that liberals are “better” or even more “tolerant” than conservatives (although, as I always say, it’s not intolerant if you’re intolerant of intolerance)”

    “….compromising with terrorists and Nazis is not always good. But compromising on a budget deal is good, as opposed to shutting down the government when you don’t get your way, etc, etc.”

    This is an interesting perspective. Not getting into politics, my response is in reference to the use of language in discussion and debate. You used the term “bias” to describe the behavioral phenomenon in your post. This bias is also inherently present in the words one chooses to articulate a particular point. The terms “intolerant” and “compromise” are illustrative of this point.

    For the sake of brevity, I will address your example of conservatives’ failure to “compromise” on the recent budget debate. The U.S. budget has been balanced once in the last 45 years. The default positions of most politicians is unquestionably to push for more money to spend every year. The argument is never one of “no” increase, it’s always about how much the percentage “increase” will be.

    Compromise has historically meant that both sides give up something. Non conservative repubs, dems and libs are always demanding conservatives “compromise” on whatever is being demanded of them. However, the only compromise this non-conservative coalition ever makes is accepting less than they were demanding at that time.

    So, let’s see how that brand of “compromise” works. The non-conserves demand the alphabet. The conserves “compromise” and give up the letter A. The non-conserves come back next time and demand B, C, D, E, F and G. Conserves, as always, cave in under media pressure and “compromise” again. This time they give up B, C, D and E. They are then hailed for being reasonable and compromising, “to make government” work, etc.

    As you can see, in this scenario, the non-conserv side’s “compromise” never costs them anything. They just don’t get as much as they demanded. It reminds me of the the chicken and the pig being asked to contribute to a bacon and eggs breakfast.

    The conserves are constantly moving further from A and closer to Z. The non-conserve are incrementally taking over the entire alphabet. That’s not my definition of “compromise.”

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