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Here’s what research shows about how couples can thrive despite political differences


Having different political views than a romantic partner can affect the way that people consume news — and research shows partisan news media can trigger conflict in the relationship. Anete Lusina/Pexels

As the 2024 election season approaches, political news coverage will rise — and with it, so might conflict between couples with differing political views.

It’s something Emily Van Duyn is paying attention to.

Van Duyn, an associate professor of communications at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, led a research study where she interviewed 67 individuals who are in what she calls cross-cutting romantic relationships: people who have a partner with different political views than themselves. 

The purpose of the interviews, she said, was to study how having differing political views impacts a couple’s communication style and their news intake. She also sought to understand how such couples overcome their differences. 

Van Duyn found that there are different ways people in cross-cutting relationships consume their news, which can affect the likelihood of conflict.

“A lot of it was: How public is the news that you're consuming?” Van Duyn said. “Even news consumption that's very much in private, we do that on our social media platforms, or we connect to articles that way. For couples who are trying to engage or share those with one another, it can become a point of conflict.” 

Van Duyn started her research in 2020. She said that a lot of the study participants reported disagreement surrounding impact-heavy news cycles such as the pandemic and the presidential election. With the 2024 election approaching, Van Duyn said she expects similar patterns. 

“I can only imagine in a time of intense news consumption and new cycles, that we're going to see more and more conflict happening,” Van Duyn said. 

Many Individuals in Van Duyn’s study discussed the emotional toll that having different political beliefs took on their relationship. She said that many couples ended up breaking up because the partners felt as if they didn’t share the same values and morals with their partner. 

“I think the most successful relationships, of the people that I talked to, were people who did find overlap in values and morals, and just saw politics as a manifestation of, ‘we just approach it differently.’” Van Duyn said. “When it came to, ‘I literally don't think we share the same values,’ that's a very different conversation.”

Van Duyn also noted that, due to widespread information and polarization, many couples disagree on basic facts.

“I think the hard part is we've become so polarized beyond reason, where one side doesn't even agree on the same facts, so having a discussion isn't even logical anymore,” she said. 

Setting boundaries is the best way to manage these differences and overcome conflict. Van Duyn said the most successful couples are the ones who set boundaries, as long as it doesn’t create topic avoidance for ideas that someone is passionate about. 

“There's some research that says actually, topic avoidance can be really helpful if it is a stress point in the relationship,” she said. “The problem comes when that avoidance is around a topic that is very much tied to who you are.”