The San Francisco Marriage and Couples Center offers couples counseling and individual therapy during this challenging time.

The San Francisco Marriage and Couples Center offers couples counseling and individual therapy during this challenging time.

When Relationships Get Politicized

By Masha Lisitsa

 

            On November 8th, 2016, like most of us, I gathered around my television with friends and family to watch the election results. As the wave of shock at the possibility of a Trump presidency hit me, I witnessed the responses in myself and those around me. There was a fairly clear polarization of reactions. The men in the room became increasingly rowdy – bottles were opened, vulgarities at the TV screen were made, volume of voices increased. From my seat on the couch, curled up next to three other women, I saw each of us sink. Sink into silence, despair, and frozenness. It wasn’t just a disappointment; I felt the system had failed women’s bodies. And of course it wasn’t just the failure of protecting women, but minorities, immigrants, and all of the many other identities he has targeted.

            In the following weeks and months as I sat with therapy clients and spoke with colleagues, family, and friends, I noticed patterns of disconnection between heterosexual women and their male partners. Suddenly people were awake, politicized, and everyone was seen as either part of the problem or part of the solution. Any wavering from significant others on issues that mattered registered as a personal attack. “How could he not care that much? How could he tell me I’m over reacting? Our reproductive rights are at stake!” I watched women choose to change their birth control, question the integrity of their partners and family members, and own the word feminism in a new way. Couples got into conversations around money, raising concerns about their joint level of economic security or access to healthcare through their jobs. Queer couples expressed fears about their marriages being annulled. I even heard friends adamantly declare not to have children during the Trump era! The fear and uncertainty about the future felt too real.

We cannot escape politics. The political is personal, that feels truer than it ever has for the younger generation. The political climate impacts the conversations we have and the decisions we make, romantic life included. Dan Savage, writer and creator of the hit podcast “Savage Love” proposes that one impact on the LGBTQ movement, believe it or not, were straight women! When women would discover their male love interests were homophobic, the responses were often “I’m not sleeping with you!” Yet another example of the importance of allyship from those in privileged positions… If your partner doesn’t stand by you on these important human rights issues, where else won’t they stand by you? This was a key question people in politically differing relationships appeared to be asking themselves post-election. I spoke with a family member, an Asian-American immigrant, whose white male partner had voted for Trump. She expressed confusion and grief as to how he could support someone that didn’t support her very existence in the U.S. In such a currently divided country, how does a couple engage with one another when they have such different moral stances? Is it a deal breaker? Perhaps the election just highlighted already existing discrepancies between some couples.

Sue Johnson, leading expert in the field of couples therapy, writes that “couples with a secure emotional attachment are much more able to deal with dangers such as the Scud missile attacks than other less connected couples” she goes on to describe that even in the death camps of World War II “the unit of survival was the pair, not the solitary individual” (Hold Me Tight, 2008, p. 26). In challenging times, our bonds are what protect us and help us to feel safe. They reduce stress, and increase confidence and a sense of security. Our relationships may be our strongest sources of strength, survival, and hope right now. I hope that in the challenging times up ahead, the person/people you choose to be with make your world feel like a little bit better of a place versus a scarier one.

 Masha Lisistsa, MA, MFT intern is passionate about assisting couples during this challenging political climate. She is also an admin assistant at The San Francisco Marriage and Couples Center.  

Masha Lisistsa, MA, MFT intern is passionate about assisting couples during this challenging political climate. She is also an admin assistant at The San Francisco Marriage and Couples Center.  

 

 

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