During the last few weeks, every person I saw in the Bay Area was clearly impacted in some way by the changes in our political climate. As a couples therapist, I witness the impact of this on people’s intimate relationships. Those who are feeling fear, grief, and anger about the political situation need to turn to their partners for support and care. But, for many couples, this is not easy.
None of us are impacted in exactly the same way by the election results. For those who are upset by the election results, all of the differences in gender, sexuality, race, socio-economic, and immigrant status between us are now highlighted and some feel more vulnerable that others. For those who feel that their rights may be taken away in the coming government, it can be hard to see a partner as an ally if they are experiencing it less personally.
The two people in every couple also tend to have different emotional styles. One partner may feel overwhelmed by the news and want to curl up in a ball with their cat. Another might be pouring over every news article. One might want to be alone and another may be trying to gather with like-minded people and strategize. Some people’s nervous systems become hypo-active under stress and they can appear numb or withdrawn. Others can become hyper-active and express strong emotional reactions. It can be hard for two people who are experiencing opposite emotional reactions to feel connected and empathic to the differences.
However, more than ever, this connection is our medicine. More than ever, we need to be intimate with each other; tender, caring, and communicative. More than ever, we cannot face the challenges around us alone. More than ever, we need quality time with our loved ones, and simple things like physical affection, cooking meals, and taking walks.
If you are struggling with the impact of political changes on your relationship, try some of these things.
- Imagine being in your partner’s shoes, their gender, race, sexual orientation, and life experiences. What is the impact on them right now? What do you experience in your body when you imagine the world thru your partner’s eyes? What kind of support would you need?
- Honor the differences in your coping skills and emotional reactions. Don't push your partner to engage in political activism or listen to the news if they are not ready or feel overwhelmed by it.
- If you feel vulnerable to the impact of changing policies and your partner is less vulnerable, let them know ways that they can be an ally.
- If you are in a privileged position and your partner is more vulnerable, read and attend trainings to learn how to support them. Your partner may be too exhausted to educate you in this moment.
- If you are considering decisions with long term impact like marriage or long term birth control because you are concerned about upcoming changes to health care or marriage equality, consider working with a couples therapist who can help you have the heart to heart conversations that might be necessary for your relationship.
- Practice self care, whatever that means to you. Encourage your partner’s self care.
- More than ever, take time to turn of technology and social media. Take walks, eat, sleep, cuddle, and have heart to heart conversations.