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Opposite political views stir concerns

| Sunday, March 10, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

I have a wonderful girlfriend of two years now. There's only one thing that makes me worry about the future of our relationship: her political views. I'm liberal, and she's conservative. When we discuss politics, it gets heated — and it's usually because I think she lacks empathy, while she thinks I'm tooempathetic to people's situations (subject example: collecting unemployment).

I'm at the point in the relationship where I want to take it to the next level, but is this going to be a big problem in the future? Are our polar-opposite political views a sign of polar-opposite values that will make it hard to be married or raise a family?

I think the reason I get so upset when we debate politics is that she doesn't pay attention to the news, so her opinions, while strong, are never as informed as they could be. If they were and she disagreed with me, I could take comfort in the fact that she really knows what she's talking about.

— Deal-Breaker?

Couples can survive political differences, but they rarely thrive when one half doesn't respect the other. If you don't respect her thought process, then, deal-breaker.

Re: Politics:

How do you cultivate respect for a person when they decisively and firmly argue uninformed opinions? If a person is plowing forward (in an argumentative manner) with opinions that aren't based in fact, how do you conjure empathy and, therefore, respect for them? I agree that a relationship cannot survive a lack of respect, but what if someone is displaying behavior that isn't making respect a walk in the park?

— Anonymous

You accept that you don't respect the person, and it might be over.

However, there might be areas of life this person handles with grace, and challenges s/he seems to master while you struggle, which can justify staying. There are many ways to strike and appreciate a balance.

Where you can't just break up (family, say) and there aren't those mitigating elements, you go exactly where you suggest: empathy. You can imagine emotional reasons people choose the positions they do, argue them with the fervor they do and close their minds to contrary facts as they do.

I do think that, while a quest for mutual respect is necessary with people you don't choose, like parents or neighbors, it's best not to work that hard with a mate. Hold out, instead, for mutual respect that comes from sources that are natural and enduring.

Re: Politics:

I ask myself, when faced with political differences in a potential relationship: “Is this person sufficiently kind?” I find that political differences that turn out to be deal-breakers are evidence that the person is not kind enough for me to want to spend time with them.

— Anonymous 2

Not just a good suggestion, thanks, but one that's applicable well beyond politics.

Email Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com, or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

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