Political polarization has a way of creeping under the sheets and into your coffee date
Politics have been at the centre of nearly everyone’s mind lately, with protests cropping up on both the far left and right across North America. When we go to sleep, typically, we are sheltered from this bombardment, but we may not be as insulated in the bedroom as once thought.
Pillow talk is not often political, but with news of tumultuous politics seeming more and more inescapable, one can’t help but wonder how this is affecting us in our most intimate relationships.
While we don’t share a president, we are deeply affected by events happening in the United States, and as recent news has told us, we are also not entirely immune to polarized politics creeping their way north.
Dr. Cory Hrushka, an Edmonton psychologist specializing in sexual health, coaches hundreds of couples in their relational tensions, ranging from simple upsets, to more weighty disagreements like politics and religion. He’s seen a definite uptick in the last year surrounding the impacts of American political and cultural events on Edmontonians that come through his doors.
“I think the view of politics right now is causing stressors on people overall,” Hrushka says. “Those stressors can then exacerbate current issues that are going on in the relationship.”
It’s true. Relationships are hard enough without dealing with constant low-level stress. Along with inflaming underlying conflicts, he says this latent stress manifests as, “more chronic anxiety patterns, more fears of travelling, [and] more attention to the media, which is causing more depression.”
Dr. Lynne Honey, Chair of MacEwan’s department of psychology, explains that when we live with prolonged low-level stress, even our love life can feel the weight. There is in fact an entire subfield of psychology that studies exactly this—the volatility of relationships associated with different kinds of political climates.
“If you’re in an environment that seems unsafe, it often leads people to make different kinds of choices in terms of their relationships,” Honey says. “So, there are some people who will avoid getting into a relationship in a volatile situation because there’s just too much going on to focus on being in a relationship. Other people will cling to relationships because it’s the one thing that seems stable.”
There is also the issue of simply finding a partner, and polarized politics might also be affecting who we choose to go to bed with. Finding a partner is not a simple thing, especially when everyone is walking around more prone to either run away from someone that disagrees with them, or cling to something potentially unhealthy.
A survey done by data app Wishbone found that 47 per cent of millennials wouldn’t date someone with different political beliefs, while 70 percent say it’s taboo to discuss politics on a first date.
On the other hand, Honey sees some potentially positive effects coming into focus with polarization, which doubly affect those on the market for a partner.
“With the kind of fascinating political and social climate that we’ve got going right now, I think it’s a great opportunity to have those conversations with a potential partner,” she says.
Honey says that by regularly discussing contentious issues, relationships can quickly either develop or fizzle out—essentially a win-win result.
“If you’re only discussing your favourite beer or wine, you don’t really know someone’s core values,” Honey says. “But when you start talking about politics and social movements, that’s when you really see what someone’s made of.”
Given this, compatibility in politics could transition to compatibility in other areas of a relationship, though not always, Honey notes.
“Whenever there’s something that’s sort of novel in our social environment, it allows us to reflect on the fit between us and our partners,” she says. “When there are political events or big social upheavals, when you hear your partner’s opinions about those things, it also allows you to see them in a different light, because you might not have discussed that topic before. Because you know, Trump did something stupid, or a new law was passed that only one of you thinks is a good idea.”
Perhaps, because politics has jumped into centre stage in such a personal way as of late, people are being forced to adapt to this constant presence in their lives, and for many relationships, this is entirely new territory.
One thing we do know so far is that this environment will continue to have an impact on the way we relate to people, both intimately and casually.