Houses di­vided by tur­bu­lent elec­tions

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - CHICAGOLAND - Bal­anc­ing Act Heidi Stevens hstevens@chicagotri­bune.com Twit­ter @hei­dis­tevens13

A house di­vided against it­self can, in fact, stand, but it’s no small feat dur­ing an elec­tion cy­cle.

“We’re hap­pier when we’re not dis­cussing pol­i­tics,” Deer­field’s Marla Dav­ishoff said. “And it’s hard not to dis­cuss pol­i­tics dur­ing elec­tions.”

“I’m not all that con­cerned with elec­tions in the first place,” her hus­band, Craig, said.

“And him say­ing that makes my blood boil,” Marla Dav­ishoff said.

Cou­ples who land on dif­fer­ent spots along the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum have al­ways been a cul­tural fas­ci­na­tion. (Mary Matalin and James Carville! How do they do it?) But in a cli­mate where pol­i­tics have be­come so di­vi­sive — and so in­escapable — the chal­lenges of such pair­ings are am­pli­fied and, in some cases, emo­tion­ally wrench­ing.

“It’s in­tense,” said Don Cole, clin­i­cal di­rec­tor at the Gottman In­sti­tute and a li­censed mar­riage and fam­ily coun­selor. “It’s the worst I’ve ever seen it. More and more in the coun­sel­ing of­fice when we get to the point of ‘What are your deep dif­fer­ences?’ they’re po­lit­i­cal. I didn’t used to hear that. They used to be about spend­ing money, rais­ing kids, tak­ing care of el­derly par­ents. Deep di­vi­sions over pol­i­tics is new.”

Thirty per­cent of mar­ried house­holds con­tain a po­lit­i­cally mis­matched pair, ac­cord­ing to FiveThir­tyEight, a site that an­a­lyzes polling data. One-third of those cou­ples are Democrats mar­ried to Repub­li­cans, the site found, and the oth­ers are peo­ple who iden­tify as par­ti­san mar­ried to peo­ple who iden­tify as in­de­pen­dent.

Cer­tainly, plenty of other pas­sions and pur­suits can spark and ce­ment a cou­ple’s bond. But when midterms are breath­ing down our necks, those shared pas­sions and pur­suits can take a back­seat to pol­i­tics.

“You can’t not talk about it,” said Pala­tine’s Aaron Del Mar. “We get 25 pieces of mail a week. We get con­stant robo­calls and texts.”

Del Mar was born and raised in Chicago by a “hard-core Dem” mom, he said. His part­ner, Sara Cox, was raised in a fam­ily of Repub­li­cans. As they grew older and es­tab­lished their own lives and val­ues, each shifted away from the pol­i­tics they were raised with.

Del Mar is a Pala­tine Town­ship Repub­li­can com­mit­tee­man and was ap­pointed by Gov. Bruce Rauner to the Illi­nois In­ter­na­tional Port Au­thor­ity ear­lier this year.

Cox iden­ti­fies her­self as a lib­eral Demo­crat.

The cou­ple live to­gether in Pala­tine, where they’re rais­ing six kids — three from his pre­vi­ous mar­riage, two from hers and one they had to­gether.

“I know she’s not go­ing to vote for some of the can­di­dates I need to win,” Del Mar said. “This elec­tion has a di­rect ef­fect on my job. If Bruce Rauner doesn’t get elected, there will be sig­nif­i­cant ef­fects on the Repub­li­can Party in Illi­nois, and I’ll be di­rectly af­fected. But what am I go­ing to do? Tell her how to vote? No way.”

They had one fight, over im­mi­gra­tion, that ended with Del Mar leav­ing the house and sleep­ing in his of­fice.

“How can you ex­plain tak­ing those kids away from those par­ents?” Cox said, start­ing to re­visit the fight. “You know what, let’s not talk about this right now. Our po­lit­i­cal be­liefs are a sep­a­rate en­tity from our re­la­tion­ship. When we have those de­bates and con­ver­sa­tions, it’s al­most like we’re dif­fer­ent peo­ple, and then we go back to our nor­mal lives, which are so chaotic with kids and ev­ery­thing.”

Cole coun­sels cou­ples to dis­cuss what leads them to their po­lit­i­cal be­liefs, rather than stay­ing stuck on the be­liefs them­selves.

“How does this re­late to their child­hood or their past? Why do they feel this? Why does this mat­ter to them? Why is this the hill on which they’ll die?” he said. “You have to try to un­der­stand the emo­tions and the feel­ings and the needs of the per­son who’s in op­po­si­tion to you. It’s hard, but it’s the only way that gets you to a place of, ‘I dis­agree with you, but I un­der­stand why you be­lieve that.’”

The Dav­ishoffs spent the first 20 years of their mar­riage po­lit­i­cally synced. Both iden­ti­fied as Democrats and voted as such. But Craig Dav­ishoff, over the last five years, has moved away from par­tic­i­pat­ing in pol­i­tics.

“I would pre­fer there not be any gov­ern­ment in our lives,” he said. “I think gov­ern­ment is a prob­lem­atic con­cept, and I would pre­fer it to go away and al­low us to live our lives freely.”

“And to me, to say, ‘I don’t be­lieve in gov­ern­ment’ is ir­rel­e­vant be­cause we live in a so­ci­ety that has a gov­ern­ment,” Marla Dav­ishoff said. “Our role is to elect peo­ple to rep­re­sent us and to vote for can­di­dates who re­flect our be­liefs.”

The Dav­ishoffs have two sons, 15 and 18, both of whom have spe­cial needs.

“We’re part of an or­ga­ni­za­tion called Illi­nois Par­ents of Adults With De­vel­op­men­tal Dis­abil­i­ties, and they put out a list of can­di­dates who they be­lieve are go­ing to sup­port in­di­vid­u­als with dis­abil­i­ties,” Marla Dav­ishoff said. “When I go into the vot­ing booth, that’s pretty much how I vote.”

It frus­trates her, she said, that her hus­band may choose to stay home on Elec­tion Day.

“As a care­giver to our boys, I’m the one who is deal­ing with gov­ern­ment agen­cies and go­ing to their doc­tor’s ap­point­ments and hav­ing IEP (In­di­vid­u­al­ized Ed­u­ca­tion Pro­gram) meet­ings, so the idea of not vot­ing just seems like a lux­ury that you can’t af­ford when you’re tak­ing care of kids with dis­abil­i­ties who rely on the gov­ern­ment,” Marla Dav­ishoff said.

Craig Dav­ishoff said he deeply re­spects the re­search and time his wife de­votes to mak­ing an in­formed vote, but that doesn’t change his core be­lief that gov­ern­ment is the cause of, not the so­lu­tion to, our prob­lems.

“Marla de­scribes her Repub­li­can friends who be­lieve in keep­ing more of their own dol­lars to take care of their spe­cial needs children, which is an idea she can re­spect among her Repub­li­can friends,” he said. “But when I make that same ar­gu­ment, I’m met with a brick wall.”

He’s ea­ger, he said, for Tues­day’s elec­tions to come and go.

Del Mar and Cox said they’ve learned to iden­tify when a de­bate is go­ing off the rails.

“We’ll say, ‘We have to stop talk­ing about this. We can talk about it later, but it’s get­ting too heated,’” Cox said. “Things have got­ten so ex­treme, and I don’t think it’s good for our coun­try or our re­la­tion­ships.”

Cole said cou­ples who weather their dif­fer­ences — po­lit­i­cal or oth­er­wise — work to keep con­tempt out of their dis­cus­sions.

“Once we start vil­i­fy­ing and us­ing at­tack lan­guage — ‘If you think that, you’re an id­iot!’ — that’s the most de­struc­tive things in mar­i­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tion,” he said. “When you im­ply your part­ner is some­how men­tally, emo­tion­ally, spir­i­tu­ally in­fe­rior if they think that, it’s very hard to re­pair from that. There’s got to be re­spect in the way you dis­cuss your dis­agree­ments.”

Again, no small feat. But a healthy foun­da­tion on which to build a home.

Join the Heidi Stevens’ Bal­anc­ing Act Face­book group, where she hosts live chats ev­ery Wed­nes­day at noon. On Nov. 7 she’ll be joined by Ta­nia Richard, former co­host of the “Race Bait” pod­cast, to talk about en­gag­ing in un­com­fort­able con­ver­sa­tions.

AN­TO­NIO PEREZ/CHICAGO TRI­BUNE

Sara Cox and Aaron Del Mar, a cou­ple who are on op­po­site ends of the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum, out­side their Pala­tine home on Thursday.

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