Tell Me About It

My Irish fiance thinks my family and I are bigots

Tell Me About It: He is shocked by my political views

PROBLEM: I moved to Ireland four years ago to work in the IT sector. This was never meant to be a permanent move. I came here to work in a small but world-renowned company where I could hone my programming skills, which I believed would make me very attractive to a lot of future employers. When I arrived here I worked day and night, but soon realised that I needed to make a life for myself, and at weekends I started to tour around the country to see the sights and meet the locals.

Three years ago when travelling around the midlands I met this really handsome, smart and funny guy. We spent the weekend together and within two days he came to Dublin to visit me. We fell in love very quickly and over the course of 2½ years we have seen each other at least twice a week. He works in the engineering trade and is due to inherit a nice family farm and therefore he was never going to be in a position to move to the capital or indeed to my country. We are now engaged and love has won out but I have not given up on my career ambitions; I have relocated to his village and have embarked on a small IT start-up from a tiny home office.

I am making huge alterations to my life and have changed my goals completely, I don’t see this as a sacrifice as I want to have a family with this guy and live a charmed life in the beautiful countryside. Recently, we took a trip to my home state where my fiance met my family for the first time. My parents are passionate about politics and have always followed a very particular brand of politician. I share their interests and their ideals and when we get together we talk fervently about political strategies and ideologies.

My parents loved my fiance but to say that he was shocked by their viewpoints and indeed mine is an understatement. He has a very centrist outlook and we had never really discussed politics before. When we arrived home, he told me that while he loved me he realised I was somewhat bigoted and that my attitude to people of particular backgrounds was vile. He told me that he sees us having an amazing life together, but he does not ever want to engage in any hateful rhetoric. I was always cautious about telling him about my political outlook and actively avoided such conversations.

But I am really hurt that he thinks so little of me and I don’t know if I can live a life where I need to be silent. I also don’t know if I can bring children into the world with someone who will not let me share my worldview with them.

ADVICE: The test of a relationship is often not that we agree and share every viewpoint but how we overcome obstacles. You two are now in such a situation and it is possible to see this as an opportunity rather than an impasse. That you both hold views so strongly shows that your political views are very important to you and hiding them or never expressing them is unlikely to be a successful recipe for a life together. The conflict is that you hold opposing views and this is a call to understanding, though it will require great love and patience to deliver this.

You may never fully resolve your differences, but this does not mean it will not be a hugely successful relationship

As you are the one who is seeking help, it is up to you to start the process: begin by asking your fiance all about his views, why they are so important to him and continue inquiring until he is able to say that he thinks you fully understand where he is coming from. Then, you must also be listened to fully until you feel that he fully understands your position and you have no doubt that he gets it. This will require both of you not to say “but . . .” during this enquiry but to hold back until the other is completely finished. The creativity in engaging in conflict is that there is a new outcome at the end, ie no one winning or losing but something new emerging. As you are in such a close relationship, it is likely that you are the person who has the biggest influence on him and he on you. What do you want this influence to be and what effect would you like to have on him and what will you allow his influence to be on you?

There is really good research on couples (look up John Gottman) which says that 69 per cent of all couple arguments are never resolved in the course of their life together. This means that you may never fully resolve your differences, but this does not mean it will not be a hugely successful relationship. The danger zones are in how we argue and if we argue with hidden or expressed criticism, contempt, defensiveness or stonewalling (making yourself emotionally unavailable) then the relationship will suffer and eventually die unless there are attempts to repair it. We need to engage with each other and our differences with lots of affection, lightness and joy (personal happiness). Gottman suggests that there is a 5:1 ratio: that is for every criticism there should be five times more affection for the relationship to be successful.

The fact that your views on the world are so different can also be an opportunity for learning and you might discover that the philosophy behind your partner’s perspective is one that is worth giving attention to.

If you plan to have children, you might want to offer them a perspective on the world that is unified and so engaging robustly now is what is needed.