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Here’s how to watch the debates without ruining your marriage

Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW, is a clinical therapist, and the author of three books, among them, Love Lessons from Bad Breakups and The Complete Marriage Counsler. She gives love advice on programs including Today and HuffPost Live, conduct...

A guide to surviving the debates without getting into a monster fight with your spouse

The title of this piece might sound humorous but this presidential election is more divisive than any in recent memory, and that’s saying a lot. Thus, if you’re Team Clinton and your spouse is Team Trump, watching the two deeply opposing candidates battle each other one-on-one can cause more than political unrest...Take these safeguards to protect your marriage.

Set pre-debate boundaries

If you decide to watch the debates together, know beforehand neither of you is going to change the other’s mind about who to vote for. The person you love will (hopefully) be in your life long after the election is history. And the person you love is someone to treat with love, empathy and respect, even when you don’t agree with his or her decision.

So, agree that disagreeing with the candidate each of you is rooting for while watching the debate is OK. You can even lightly snort with derision at the screen a few times when something particularly egregious to your mind is said. What is not OK is keeping up a steady stream of derisive comments while your partner’s candidate (aka, your mortal enemy) is talking. And it is certainly not OK to hurl derisive comments at your partner. Acceptance that your partner has different beliefs (crazy to your mind though they may be) is essential. If you can handle these rules, turn on the flat-screen and pop the popcorn. If not, don’t watch the debate together.

Use a talking stick

This is another useful pre-debate watching exercise. Aboriginal tribal councils use a speaker’s staff, called a talking stick, that is passed from member to member. The person holding the stick is the only one allowed to speak. This is a fabulous tool when discussing political viewpoints with your other half.

Even when you have wildly differing beliefs on some areas, it’s likely you share similar feelings about social and/or other issues. The stick (or stick stand-in) forces you to listen when your spouse explains why he or she holds what to you seem like ridiculous ideas. And it forces your partner to listen to you. Look for commonalities — i.e., you both believe in LGBT rights or fiscal conservatism. And be sure to respect (if not agree) with why your partner favors a position you find repugnant.

The more you are open to hearing the other person, the more you might even learn a thing or two. Open minds help keep your hearts open and connected.

Hit pause

Yes, you made the pre-debate-watching agreement not to say anything insulting to your partner. But there are words that simply want to emerge from your lips. Words such as: Whom did I marry? Only a moron or racist would support DRUMPF. Or: If someone as corrupt as Hillary is your candidate, clearly I shouldn’t trust you.

Time to pause. Take a deep breath and think about what might happen if you make this statement. Nothing pretty. And odds are you will regret it.

After the pause, say to your partner, “I don’t think watching this together is a good idea after all. I’m going into another room. See you later.”

Watch in different rooms

If you live in a studio, this might not be possible. If separate viewing is a viable solution for the two of you, go for it. If not, perhaps for a few hours one of you can visit friends with like-minded beliefs. This way you can watch the on-screen fireworks from different locales. When the two of you are reunited, pillow talk should not include anything Trump- or Clinton-related.

Reset

Post-debate it’s essential to reconnect, remind yourselves how much fun you have together and how well you work as a team. Go on a hike. look at your wedding album. Take in a movie the two of you have been eager to see.

The key to debate-watching together is to treat one another with respect during the — uh — activity. That and to get away from discussing politics or other controversial topics immediately after. And remember, just because you watched the first debate together doesn’t mean you have to repeat the experience and tune into the next two.

For extra help

Download this phone app, Political Pitfalls, which offers a fun way to keep this discourse light.

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