So I have a girlfriend that I’ve been dating for the better part of four years now, and she’s absolutely amazing. Smart, sweet, fun to be around, sterling personality, and really cute on top of all that. We get along really well, and I love being around her. Our relationship is founded largely on our shared religious beliefs, as we’re both strong Christians, and I really enjoy getting to talk to her about those kinds of things, especially because a lot of my friends aren’t of the same opinions, and it’s nice to have somebody who agrees. We have our disagreements from time to time, but the vast majority are dealt with healthily and productively.
A lot of the time, whenever we have conversations about deep political issues, we spend a lot more time talking about the aspects that we disagree on. I absolutely love having debates about these kinds of things, because I feel that it’s the best way for me to either adjust my views if I find them to be off from what I believe, or to confirm them if they really do align with my views. That being said, she isn’t really as interested in that kind of conversation, and they tend to be the source of a lot of strong disagreements. I’m much more emotionally detached from political issues than she is, and I sometimes argue for a perspective that she finds offensive, and it limits the dialogue we can have on that subject.
Honestly, we’re really pretty close together on a political spectrum, but because I talk a lot about the differences in our opinions, she feels like we never see eye-to-eye on anything. It especially hurts because she sometimes buys into straw-man arguments, and I know that she sees Republicans as ignorant bigots who don’t care about anything but making money and don’t want to help anybody but themselves. I don’t identify with the Republican Party, but her pre-conceived notions about what they’re like concern me, because I know she sees me as one.
I just don’t know how I can emphasize to her that we really do have a lot more in common than we do different. It’s not like it’s an enormous issue that’s driving a wedge between us, but I feel like she doesn’t really understand some parts of me. I’ve been diagnosed with some social issues in the past, and interpersonal interactions are something that I struggle with from time to time. She’s amazingly accepting and accommodating of those limitations, even though I can tell that they annoy her from time to time. I just feel like they’re getting in the way of her understanding me, and I want to make it easier for her to understand how much we really do see the same way. How can I emphasize that we think largely the same way?
Um. At the risk of pointing out the obvious, Sparkler, you could always not turn every single conversation into an argument about your differences of opinion.
Because geez, dude. It’s not that you can’t ever have political discussions within the context of a relationship, or that you can only be in a relationship with someone who shares every last one of your views. But if you insist on making every dialogue into a disagreement—and it really sounds like you are—then of course the other person will begin to get the impression that disagreeing is all you guys ever do. Add to that the fact that you know your girlfriend actively dislikes all this constant intellectual sparring, and it seems like kind of a no-brainer that you should stop dragging her into the ring and forcing her to fight you, just so that you can satisfy your thirst for debate.
And while that’s true in any event, it’s also especially true if you’re debating like a jerk.
Which, to be clear, I am not saying you are—and if I’m off base about this, then hey, I’m wrong and no harm done. But on this subject, there is one particular line in your letter that really made Auntie SparkNotes go HMMMMMMM, and it’s this one:
“I’m much more emotionally detached from political issues than she is, and I sometimes argue for a perspective that she finds offensive, and it limits the dialogue we can have on that subject.”
Because I’ve gotta tell you, kiddo: when it comes to attitudes that inform the way you debate, the one you describe here has contributed to more obnoxious, asshatty behavior than probably any other in the history of the world. Setting yourself up as a cool-headed bastion of logic in contrast to your girlfriend’s over-emotional (and by implication, lesser/irrational) arguments is the signature move of Douchebag Boyfriends everywhere, and yes, it does put a damper on dialogue—because people tend to stop talking when they feel like you’re just using them to prove to yourself how smart you are.
So with that in mind, do me a favor: You say that you love these debates because they provide you an opportunity to scrutinize your own views. But in all the times you’ve butted heads with your girlfriend, how many times have you actually changed your mind in response to one of her arguments? Have you ever found yourself saying, “I hadn’t considered that,” or, “I see your point,” or even, “I agree with you”? Or do you always come away convinced that your girlfriend is just over-emotional, under-thoughtful, straw-man-susceptible, and otherwise wrong about things?
Your answers to these questions will tell you a lot about whether you’re truly debating in good faith, or whether you’re just being combative. (If it’s the latter, that’s another good reason to dial back the frequency with which you discuss politics with your girlfriend.)
And from there, if you really want to convince her that you guys are generally on the same page, adopt the following guidelines for future conversations:
Your girlfriend doesn’t like arguing the way you do, which means she’s just not the person you should be picking fights with for the sake of intellectual stimulation. Don’t advocate for perspectives that she finds upsetting unless you actually, genuinely believe them—and in the event that you do believe them, be mature enough to recognize when you’re going in circles and it’s time to stop sparring and just agree to disagree.
Don’t dismiss her perspective just because she’s emotionally invested where you’re not (especially if you’re discussing an issue like abortion, where being detached and academic about it tends to be the exclusive luxury of people without uteruses.) Emotional and irrational are not synonyms; it’s entirely possible for a person’s beliefs to be both passionate and founded in logic.
And finally, at least half the time, try talking about something on which you’re in at least partial agreement—and don’t make the mistake of thinking that it has to be an argument to be interesting. Trust me; you can get just as much mental stimulation from discussing a shared opinion from different perspectives. (For instance: even if you’re in agreement about the best-case outcome for the upcoming Presidential election, you can still enjoy many hours of stimulating discussion about whether or not Donald Trump has a diagnosable personality disorder, and if so, which one it is.)
In combination, these three things should make a pretty substantial difference to your relationship dynamic, and do a lot to combat the impression that you and your GF are constantly, unrelentingly at odds. But more importantly, when you make a point of bonding over all the things you do share, you’re creating a foundation of trust, love, respect, and goodwill that will serve you well on the occasions when you disagree.
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