In Love and War the Personal is Political

SCRUBCO: The letter B for Beliefs (Fourth in the Series on Calculating your Chances for Love)

We choose our friendships based on the things we have in common. But in affairs of the heart, it’s opposites who attract. I admit that in my first marriage both my ex and I were guilty of such bad chemistry. I say “chemistry” because when we first got together, it was all a chemical maze of sweaty sex and conversations about nothing well into the night. By the time the conversation became more serious, we had developed attachments for one another that could not be dissuaded by the obvious. We did not share the same world-view.

My ex had grown up on the myth of the American dream in which the smartest and hardest-workers will rise to the top. Those that don’t must somehow be inferior. Because his family was financially successful, it was preferable for them to adapt a social Darwinian perspective. He and his family never took into account how institutionalized racism, class bias and misogyny might impact a person’s ability to achieve. Therefore, he and his line believed themselves to be superior to everyone who didn’t share their financial status. This fact was barely camouflaged by a thin veil of extreme politeness to everyone they came in contact with and who was beneath their station. I believe the word I’m looking for here is condescending.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I’m the daughter of ex-communists. Yes, I’m a Red Diaper Baby. Therefore my world-view was informed by two questions.

1. Why is it that a few people own the bulk of the wealth in this country, while the rest of the world scraps for the tidbits?

2. What can I do to shift the imbalance to achieve a more equitable environment for all people?

I hasten to say, I am not and never have been a member of the communist party. So any McCarthyites out there can relax. But my political views are pretty far left to center. My ex, on the other hand, once proclaimed that he wasn’t sure he could vote for Jimmy Carter again because he wasn’t sure he could withstand four more years of Jimmy’s unattractive daughter, Amy in the White House. I’m embarrassed to say that he spoke those words before we were even engaged, and I married him anyway.

I believe it was Margaret Sanger who first said, “The personal is political.” While she may not have been referring to affairs of the heart, I think the quote is relevant here. Our politics are based on a set of values and beliefs that instruct us to behave a certain way in the world. When we don’t share values and beliefs with our partner, trouble is bound to follow.

To clarify, Beliefs is a term that refers to a person’s constructs regarding the world and his or her relationship to others. So I’m not necessarily referring to religious beliefs in this instance. In fact I’ve known many happy marriages where each spouse follows a different religious path. ‘Beliefs’ in this instance is more about culture and values rather than which church, synagogue or mosque each person attends. An example of conflicting beliefs is when one party views the world as a dangerous, unwelcoming place where people who they perceive to be different from them are to be distrusted and disregarded, while the other party views the world as welcoming and seeks to make authentic connections with his or her fellow humans. Sometimes these beliefs are passed down through family scripts, culture or class bias.

The struggles couples have when dealing with conflicting beliefs are insidious and present themselves in various ways throughout the life of a relationship. We see these struggles surface when parties are prioritizing time, addressing work issues, extraneous relationships, how money should be spent, and child rearing practices. But it certainly isn’t limited to those topics. In order to work through contradictions in beliefs and constructs, couples need to be willing to communicate with honesty, respect and trust. The enormous hurdle to contradictory beliefs is that it sometimes erodes the initial good will each party may have held for the other. Frankly, sometimes it’s just not worth it. Because not only is the personal political, the political is personal. And what starts out as a love match may just end up as a war.



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