Politics have been a part of my husband’s and my relationship nearly as long as we’ve had one. We met in high school and immediately bonded over our conservative Christian values. While other teen couples were connecting over ice cream and mini-golf, we were campaigning together for Republican Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential bid. (Reminder: He lost to Bill Clinton.)
Fast forward 20 years to this year’s election: November 8, 2016, found me out campaigning again but this time for Hillary Clinton. My politics have changed a lot over the years. My husband’s? Not so much.
Then came the fateful election results. Like more than half the country, I was devastated after learning we’d elected a reality show celebrity with no political experience and morally questionable views on women as our country’s most powerful leader. And I was incredibly angry at the party who betrayed me, including my staunch Republican husband. My husband and I had been happily married for 14 years, devoted to each other and our son, but Trump’s election threatened to end all of that.
In the three months following the election, I became obsessed with politics and the news coverage of Trump—and I do mean obsessed. First thing in the morning, I’d check Twitter to see what our President-elect had tweeted. All day long I’d keep checking my feed, reading and re-reading the stories. Finally, before bed, I’d give social media one last check, falling asleep with Trump still on my mind. Understandably, this didn’t make me great company. Politics were all I thought about, all I wanted to talk about. Instead of catching up with my husband or playing with our son, I was glued to my phone. (Related: How to Stay Sane On Social Media Now That Everyone Is Angry and Arguing)
My husband, on the other hand, doesn’t necessarily love Trump but he doesn’t think he’s as bad a guy as most people think he is, and he thinks the media is biased against Trump. So while I was hyper-focusing on everything election related, he coped by doing the opposite. He checked out, refusing to read any news or follow it online. This caused a lot of heated arguments with my husband and other friends, sometimes in front of our son. I couldn’t help taking their arguments very personally and the stress of all the fighting and worry was wearing me out.
It came to a crisis point about two weeks ago when my husband sat me down, telling me my behavior had gotten out of control and he was worried about me—and about us. “You need to calm down, relax, maybe get some therapy,” he started. And then he dropped the bomb, adding, “I don’t want this election to be the reason we get divorced.”
My initial reaction was to get defensive. Trump and his political circus affect me personally, as a woman, as a scientist, and as a mother. Who was he to tell me to calm down or to tell me what I could believe? I went to bed furious. But when I woke up, I realized he might have a point. And the “d word” had definitely got my attention. Was I really going to let Trump take away the best relationship in my life? I thought about it long and hard and I decided that even though my husband and I don’t agree on everything, we do still agree on most things. And moreover, my husband is still the good, moral, caring person I fell in love with. Trump hadn’t changed that.
I also realized how bad my behavior was for me personally. My husband was right—I was stressed out, angry, sleepless, and neglecting the most important people in my life. I needed to stop. Making myself sick by constantly poring over the latest on social media wasn’t helping anyone. It wasn’t that my husband didn’t respect my right to my beliefs, but rather that he hated watching me suffer so much.
Together we decided how I could scale back and protect my health and our relationship without sacrificing my values. I put strict limits on when and how much I can be on Twitter, and I no longer follow Trump & Co.’s every move. That alone has made a big difference in my health and happiness. I’ve also made a conscious effort to not talk about politics as much and to put my family first in both my time and attention. I’m already sleeping and eating better and my stress levels are way down.
Ironically, I feel like reducing my consumption of politics has made me even more effective politically. Instead of constantly riding the outrage roller coaster and feeling like that was enough, now I am focusing my efforts on concrete ways to help make things better. I’ve donated money to the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. I’m participating in local activist groups. I’m even doing things like taking my son to pick up trash—which might sound like a little thing but honestly has a much bigger impact for good than surfing the internet all day!
As for my husband and me, our relationship has improved too. We are focusing on talking about things other than politics and improving our communication in general. And when we do talk about politics, it’s gotten better. We’re both in environmental professions and have found common ground talking about how to help our shared passion—the earth. It makes me a little sad now to realize how bad things had gotten and that it took the possibility of divorce to wake me up. But ultimately I’m glad it happened. (Related: The Surprising Reason Why Women Want Divorce More Than Men)
Politics have always been a part of our relationship and that’s great, but I’ve learned that I can’t let them take over my relationship. My husband, my son, and I are all closer than ever before and they’re my number-one priority—no politician will never be able to take that away from me.