The worrying impact of Donald Trump on relationships

Whether couples are unanimous in their opposition to Mr Trump or not, his presidency is causing some friction

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Donald Trump's divisive presidency isn't just causing chaos on the world stage - it's pushing some relationships to breaking point.

Earlier, this week a British woman asked for advice on the parenting forum Mumsnet over her frustration that her husband would not denounce Mr Trump, in particular his previously sexist comments about women.

And Jean Fitzpatrick, a relationship therapist, says Mr Trump’s ascent to power has become a frequent topic during her appointments with clients.

She is based in Manhattan and while the majority of her clients did not vote for Mr Trump in the election, the President is still managing to come between some couples.

“Since the election and the inauguration the most frequent issue is a difference in emotional intensity between partners,” she told The Independent. “Usually both are unhappy with the administration, but many women are taking it more personally than their male partners. They are still outraged by the “pussy-grabbing” video and deeply concerned about reproductive rights. 

 “Often they want to vent to their partners. Many of the men, on the other hand, are coping by compartmentalising their feelings.  Venting and compartmentalising are both ways to try to manage anxiety and anger, but they can run counter to each other. When one partner is feeling overwhelmed and vents to her husband, his own anxiety gets activated and he may tell her to calm down or stop obsessing. That leads her to feel even more frustrated and disrespected. She gets angry and he retreats further. It's a cycle."

 

So what are the solutions? With a constant news cycle it can feel like you are drowning in information. Ms Fitzpatrick says couples should check in with each other for a daily 15-minute briefing.

“This helps the expressive partner know that she will be able to share her feelings and it helps the compartmentaliser know he will avoid getting overwhelmed. Teamwork helps. They may decide they want to work together on some aspect of the resistance or to support each other’s efforts. It is also important for both partners to continue sharing the enjoyable activities they have always done: taking walks, listening to music, sharing affection and sex.” 

For the couples who voted differently, there are more obstacles to overcome - as in this election in particular, partners can interpret their other half’s vote as a reflection of their morals and values.

“When they voted differently, the most important thing to bring to the table if they want to discuss political issues is mutual respect, an inner reminder that this is your life partner whom you love, and curiosity about what motivates them,” Dr Fitzpatrick says. 

She warns against assuming the partner voted the way they did “for the worst possible reasons” and suggests opening up the conversation rather than “repeating slogans from the Internet”.  

How do you move past these differences in opinion? How do we stop arguments arising when both parties get a breaking news alert about the enforcement of Mr Trump’s latest controversial policy when out for a drink? Or a 24-hour news channel shows his latest inflammatory remarks on TV while the couple are trying to enjoy a nice meal together?

“Rather than try to persuade your partner that he or she is wrong or buying into lies, abandon the attempt to persuade and simply state your truth in as neutral a way as possible: ‘I saw photos of the inauguration with large viewing areas that were empty of crowds.’ Full stop. This is a workmanlike approach that keeps the tension level manageable so that you can engage in ongoing dialogue.” 

Couples also need to reach for other tools to overcome their disagreements, Ms Fitzpatrick says and suggests, mindfulness, yoga or meditation. 

“Passion can be a real positive, but if you're hoarse and your heart is pounding — or if your partner is overwhelmed — it's time to call a timeout and reengage when you're feeling calmer.”

A similar phenomenon was reported in the UK following the referendum vote on whether to leave the European Union. The relationship counsellor Gurpreet Singh from Relate said: “Arguments over Brexit, who to vote for and other topical debates can bring up underlying issues within the relationship as they highlight where couples have a lack of shared values. “

Mr Singh says that while he hasn’t had any couples say they have disagreed about Mr Trump, as obviously none of his clients voted for him being UK residents, a politically divisive event can bring up a whole host of questions for a concerned partner.  

“When people react to things this strongly they are reacting to what they feel is a very deep-rooted value system. For couples, if one votes for Trump and the other doesn’t, what does that say about the person you’re married to and their value system? Value systems give you your moral compass and how you will raise children, for example, and if one person is talking about voting for Trump and the other is going ‘I can’t believe you’re even thinking of that’. How does the other person react to that?” 

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