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David Schnarch, Ph.D. is co-director of the Marriage & Family Health Center. He is a licensed clinical psychologist, world-renown sex and marital therapist, and international best-selling author. He is a[…]

Couples can’t agree to disagree for most of life’s decisions, like whether or not to have a baby. So when there is room for opposing opinions, don’t sweat it too much.

Question: What advice do you give clients who enter into relationships with partners with differing political views?

David Schnarch: I’m laughing because you’re mentioning political views as sort of being the deal breaker. Almost all couples polarize. Now you can polarize over politics, but you can also polarize over things that you can’t agree to disagree. The lovely thing about our country is you can agree to disagree, so one person can be Republican and one person can be Democrat, but they each have a choice of what they’re going to do. There are so many things in marriage that are forced choice and you can’t agree to disagree, which is the common suggestion that people should agree to disagree. You can’t agree to disagree about whether you’re going to have sex tonight. You can’t agree to disagree about whether you’re going to have a baby. You can’t agree to disagree about whether you’re going to save and spend the same dollar. So politics we haven’t found to be the real deal breaker because everybody can sort of do what they want and it’s different strokes for different folks, but marriage isn’t about opinions. Marriage is about making decisions. It’s not just about feelings. When we’re just dealing with feelings everybody is entitled to their choice, but we call these two choice dilemmas. There are many, many things in marriage as I said you cannot agree to disagree and so this is how marriage is really one of the great lesson teachers because you either try to overpower your partner or you try to steal their choice or you learn to control yourself and it teaches you that if you want sex and love to stay alive you have to make room for somebody else in your marriage. A lot of us wish that we were married to somebody who was more like us, except that most of us would not want to be married to ourselves, so that’s the two choice dilemma. If you have somebody who is just like you, you usually have a boring marriage and if you have somebody who is different than you, as most of us are, then you have to put up with a lot of strain and stress to turn what looks like a deficit into a real asset and diversity is one of the things that really keeps love and sex and intimacy alive. So you have to be careful what you ask for when you’re walking away from an argument and you’re thinking to yourself, "why couldn’t this person be more like me?" We usually pick partners that are different from ourselves because we want someone who is going to counterbalance us. One of the great rules of marriage though is people get divorced for the same reason they got married, so this trait that you loved about your partner when you first got together that’s the one that drives you crazy five years in.

Recorded on January 29, 2010