The Scoop: Political disagreements between partners don’t have to signal the end of a relationship. Braver Angels is a bipartisan nonprofit that aims to create dialogue across political lines, and believes that couples can learn to respectfully disagree. The organization hosts virtual and in-person workshops where an equal number of Democrats and Republicans focus on what brings them together instead of what drives them apart. Braver Angels asks participants to consider common ground and unified beliefs over partisanship.
The United States is more politically divided than ever. In homes and offices, political discussions can get heated, and people worry that they’ll never find common ground with someone whose political views lie with the other party.
According to a 2020 survey, only 21% of married partners are in a relationship with someone who has different political leanings — down from 30% of marriages that claimed to be politically mixed in 2016.
Even if spouses affiliate with the same party, that doesn’t mean they see eye to eye on every political issue. Members of the same party can have different views on many topics. They also may find themselves disagreeing with friends, coworkers, or family members on hot-button issues.
Braver Angels is a nonprofit citizens’ organization that aims to depolarize America. After the heated 2016 presidential election, the bipartisan organization launched on the premise that members of a divided country can still find common ground if they attempt to understand one another’s positions and discover their shared values.
Braver Angels began by hosting a unity workshop in a small town in Ohio. The workshop brought 10 Trump voters and 11 Clinton voters together and showed them ways they could connect. Over several days, Braver Angels asked participants to forget political stereotypes and authentically interact with one another.
This first workshop was a success, and over the next four years, Braver Angels hosted similar workshops across the country.
“Braver Angels is not about changing minds. We believe that people should see the good in each other and appreciate one another as fellow citizens. Putting politics over personal relationships is one of the biggest problems today,” said Luke Nathan Phillips, Editor at Braver Angels.
On a Mission to Bridge the Blue-Red Divide
After the first successful workshop, Braver Angels saw its potential and started expanding. In 2017, the nonprofit’s volunteer network began hosting bipartisan workshops, debates, and other events across the country.
Braver Angels now hosts several types of workshops.
The organization’s most popular workshop — the Red/Blue Workshop — was modeled after the first bipartisan meeting in 2016. Each workshop includes an equal number of conservative-leaning and liberal-leaning individuals and is moderated by a Braver Angels volunteer.
“Participants engage in exercises to question stereotypes about political affiliations. We ask people to tease out the emotional side of politics to humanize people to each other,” Luke told us.
If couples don’t have time for the Red/Blue Workshop, they can attend the Depolarizing Within Workshop instead. The workshop helps participants become aware of their inner polarizer and helps them learn how to be critical without demonizing or dismissing large swaths of the population. And it provides them with strategies to constructively steer conversations with like-minded peers when those conversations veer into contempt or ridicule for people who think differently.
“It’s a shorter workshop that focuses on emotional dysregulation. Why do you feel that way about Republicans or Democrats?” Luke said.
Braver Angels hosts debates centered on the Socratic Seminar method, in which participants ask questions instead of making comments. Braver Angels Debates often focus on hot topics, including social justice and defunding the police.
“The format is a series of speeches, cross-examining questions, and rules, like you can’t address the other speaker in the first person, you can only address the chair. That addresses some of the snarkiness that may otherwise be involved,” said Luke.
Couples may also be interested in Families and Politics Workshops, where they can learn to have productive conversations with others who disagree with them. Political debates with family members can be particularly difficult, and these workshops offer strategies that will mitigate the emotional impact of the conflicts.
“One of the inescapable facts of political polarization is that we don’t understand the daily lives of people who live differently than we do. So, we work to find as diverse an audience as possible,” said Luke.
Partners should be willing to do the work, and it can evoke anxiety to plan to have discussions on important topics with those who disagree with you. So, participants need to ensure they are open-minded enough to engage with others.
Braver Angels moved its workshops online due to the COVID-19 pandemic but plans to resume in-person meetings in the future.
Dealing with Dating Across Political Parties
Political affiliation matters in today’s online dating culture. In 2019, The Huffington Post reported that listing yourself as “moderate” on dating apps may hurt your chances of meeting others, especially staunch liberals or conservatives.
Even fewer dating app users said they would date someone across the political aisle.
“We’re seeing a lot of political requirements in other people’s profiles. If you voted for a certain candidate, don’t swipe right on me, that kind of thing. Dating across political boundaries has become taboo,” Luke said.
Even if cross-party dating isn’t that common today, nearly 20% of marriages surveyed said they held different political affiliations. So, how can couples make their bipartisan relationships work?
One of the most critical factors is listening to the other partner. If partners signal a mutual understanding, disagreements can be more productive.
“If you can have friendships or relationships across the political divide, sometimes those political differences can become beneficial in your personal and intellectual development,” Luke said.
Another important factor is focusing on the person rather than their politics. Political affiliations affect a person’s beliefs, but not every Democrat or Republican thinks the same way. Focus on a partner’s apolitical traits — like their kindness — rather than on their partisanship.
“We want people to acknowledge that politics matter, but live together anyway. There are a variety of political opinions in America, and no one should cast judgment. Instead, engage with others, despite your differing views,” Luke said.
Braver Angels: Improving Political Discourse for All
Braver Angels was founded after the heated 2016 U.S. presidential election revealed deep divisions among the country’s voters — and in many relationships. After the election, communication across the aisle continued to break down — something that many — including Braver Angels — saw as a problem.
“People were so shocked after the 2016 election that they stopped communicating. If you’re not able to communicate, there is no way to engage in politics or even in the community,” Luke said.
Though some in the United States saw no hope for improving communication, Braver Angels remained optimistic. The organization understood it would need to be authentically bipartisan, not secretly leaning one way or the other.
“What sets us apart is that we’ve made a commitment to be as balanced among reds and blues as we can. We do that more successfully than other civil discourse groups,” Luke said.
When a COVID-19 vaccine becomes widely available in 2021, Braver Angels plans to develop more community partnerships with demographics that may be underserved in civil society work.
If couples are willing to have tough conversations, they may find that they have more in common with a partner than they thought.
“More often than not, people realize that they have common ground that normal political divides obscure,” Luke said.