American Couples Choose the Nuclear Option as Politics Get Ugly

"This is a hard time to have a conservative and a liberal in a marriage. The stakes are just higher and different. And the rules changed.”

by Adam Bulger
Originally Published: 

Scaramucci’s split was just the beginning Trump is putting relationships in danger across America.

Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci’s marriage flamed out days into his short tenure as White House Communications Director. Early reports claimed the Mooch’s wife Deidre Ball was fed up by his pursuit of Trump. Her lawyer later denied Trump drove the divorce, but in any event, Ball wanted the Mooch gone with a vengeance: She didn’t even let being nine months pregnant slow her down.

Divorcing over politics shortly before giving birth is extreme. But in the Trump era, it’s far from unique. In July, Palm Beach socialites Dave and Lynn Aronberg split after two years of marriage, citing irreconcilable political differences. The Wall Street Journal reported that politically polarized couples such as the Hinton’s, a Clovis, Calviro couple, deliberate strategies to avoid discussing Trump at all, lest their political differences permanently tear through their marriage. A May Wakefield Research survey of 1,000 American couples, found that more than one in five Americans know a couple whose marriage or relationship has been negatively impacted by Trump’s election.

Anthony Scaramucci

And it’s not just crestfallen Clinton supporters. People across the political spectrum are seeing fall-out in their personal relationships.

“It takes two to argue,” Wakefield Research partner Nathan Richter said. “When you look at party identification, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents are all reporting this.”

Therapists, researchers, and divorce attorneys report that the Trump White House has made American marriage grate again. Couples have fought about politics since the invention of the ballot box. But marriage professionals say today’s political animosity is unprecedented.

Sharon Rivkin has counseled couples at her Santa Rosa, California practice for over 30 years. She says the political fights under the Trump era are like nothing she’s ever seen before.

“In the beginning of the therapy, it’s everybody screaming ‘I can’t live this way!’” she says. “It’s been volatile with people who normally wouldn’t be this way. Trump, in many ways, brings out the worst in everybody because he plays on our fears.”

Rivkin believes Trump’s personality drives much of the conflict: “When you’re dealing with a narcissist, you’re dealing with someone who has no empathy, is not reasonable, and that pushes people’s buttons,” she added.

Therapists interviewed for this story said couples made up of different political affiliations are more divided than ever under Trump. James Carville/Mary Matalin style across-the-aisle political unions no longer seem possible.

“This is a hard time to have a conservative and a liberal in a marriage,” Meghan Freed, a partner with the Hartford, Connecticut, law firm Freed Marcroft said. “Because somehow the stakes are higher and different. And the rules changed.”

Today’s Democrats and Republicans aren’t arguing over tax codes or interventionist foreign policy. Often, they’re arguing about each party’s core character and sense of morality.

San Diego couples therapist Craig Lambert saw the process unfold firsthand when he clashed with his Republican fiancé during the 2016 election.

“It just got really ugly,” he said. “It almost destroyed our relationship. We were both pretty passionate. I was more so than she. I couldn’t see her perspective. I was becoming emotionally, almost abusive at times because of my position was so strong and rooted.”

Despite his years of training and experience as a counselor, Lambert found it impossible to be diplomatic when discussing Trump.

“I was having a difficult time discussing the facts, you know? My emotions were so intense,” he said. “I was so viscerally anti-Trump that it was just very painful to even have a conversation with someone who, regardless of their reasoning, was moving in that direction.”

Lambert saw the same tension play out not only with his clients but also with his peers. He practices Imago Therapy, a type of therapy in which couples work together to heal old wounds. Shortly before the 2016 election, political divisions tore apart Imago therapists gathered at a conference in Washington D.C.

“There was so much animosity and anger between Republicans and Democrats at this conference,” he says. “Here’s a couple of hundred relationship therapists. You would think they would have it together.”

Lambert says the group’s collective professional training eventually kicked in and a peace was brokered.

“It was so bad that they had to create an intervention and bring a couple together,” Lambert said. The political spat became a professional demonstration. “They actually had to do therapy with them in front of the rest of the group to show how you can work through something like this.”

Rivkin said that in her experience, Trump appeals more to men than women. That’s not always going to be the case — the wife was the Trump supporter in the Palm Beach “Trump Divorce,” for example — but Rivkin said Trump pitches himself more often with men.

“He’s talking their language,” Rivkin said. “He puts women down. Men are grabbing on to a lot of old fashioned beliefs. And he’s also talking about jobs and money — he’s appealing to them. The women are saying ‘Can’t you see through that. How could you treat me this way?’ Women are appalled and they’re worried about not knowing who they’ve married.”

Feeling like your spouse has suddenly become a stranger is a hallmark of the Trump effect on marriage. Aaron Anderson, owner and counselor at the Marriage and Family Clinic in Westminster, Colorado, noted that Trump’s election brought formerly fringe political views into the mainstream. Some people feel comfortable expressing views they may have held for a long time but kept hidden.

“Now their spouse is saying something like, ‘Yeah, we should get rid of all the Mexicans. They are all murderers and rapists. Yeah, let’s nuke the hell out of North Korea,’” Anderson said. “All of a sudden, it makes their partner say, “Wait, do I really know who this is? I didn’t think I married somebody who thought like this.” Then, most of the time, it brings them to question other aspects of the relationship.”

Once a couple’s divided by the Trump fault line, other rifts often start to show as well. “We wonder if we really share the same values,” Anderson said. “If our kid comes home from prom drunk, are they gonna be on my side that, ‘Hey that’s not okay’, or are they gonna say ‘That’s okay?’. It brings up all these different kinds of moral questions that they thought they knew their partner, and now it seems like they don’t.”

Freed said she’s seen a flip side to Trump’s divisive effect on relationships. Disgust over Trump, she said, can become common ground for liberal couples.

“We’re not sure how to order our new lives, but what we know is that that tweet was crazy and we are not okay with it and that we’re fundamentally good people who have similar life philosophies.” Maybe that’s heartening. Couples may disagree over custody, but they can find common ground on covfefe.

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