Nov. 2, 2012 at 6:46 AM ET
He's voting Republican; she's voting Democrat. And the two of them have to share a bed.
This year's political climate has been mean and messy for months, but one factor is resonating at home for many (heterosexual, we should say) couples: the remarkable gender divide in presidential candidate supporters. Throughout the long election season, polls have repeatedlyshown that more women have supported President Barack Obama; guys, on the other hand, are more likely to say they'll be voting for Republican Mitt Romney. Take the most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll, which shows Obama with a double-digit lead among women in three key states -- Iowa, New Hampshire and Wisconsin.
We polled our own TODAY.com readers last week, and found that about 50 percent said that you and your partner are voting for different presidential candidates.
For liberal-leaning Anna Dremousis of Seattle, all of this has meant night after night of listening to the hollering and howling coming from the next room as her 79-year-old husband, who she says is "about the only Greek Republican I've ever met," watches cable news.
"My husband has a heart condition and he screams at the TV every night -- in two languages!" says Dremousis, a 67-year-old retired prosecuting attorney. "He's watching Fox and they'll show a clip of whatever Obama said that day and he just gets riled up." This has been happening on and off for two years now.
After 48 years of marriage, Anna and her husband, Paul, have grown accustomed to disagreeing. "In our family, the men are always more conservative and the women are liberal," Anna says. "It makes for a lot of rousing dinner conversation."
While the gender divide in this election is deep, couples like Dremousises are actually pretty unusual, researchers say. Two recentstudies suggest that we tend to marry people whose political views are similar to our own, points out Gary Lewandowski, a social psychologist at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, N.J., whose research focuses on, among other things, romantic relationships. In fact, couples are more likely to share political views than they are to share similar levels of education, or personality traits like extroversion or impulsivity, a 2011 study published in the Journal of Politics found.
Lewandowski explains the people we are attracted to in the first place tend to be very similar to ourselves; as it turns out, the old adage about "opposites attracting" isn't entirely true. "In fact, if there were a golden rule for attraction it would be that partners should be similar," says Lewandowski, who is a contributor to the blog Science of Relationships.
But while much of that initial attraction is dependent on similarities, it doesn't seem to matter much in long-term relationship quality or stability. "Basically, similarly helps get us together, but is less important for keeping us together," Lewandowski explains.
So what happens when you're living with your political polar opposite? Do sparks fly every time a Democrat or Republican utters the words "I approve this message"? Or does love -- if you'll pardon the expression -- "trump" politics?
Bryan Knutson, a 38-year-old wealth management advisor from Seattle, says he and his wife, Emilie, held different political views when they met eight years ago, but that didn't stop them from marrying.
"I have always been a pretty extreme fiscal conservative. Socially, I try to moderate but it's not always easy. That has helped to smooth out some differences," he says.
The Knutsons' working strategy: Agree to disagree. "I'm not sure it's worth it to get into an argument," says Emilie, a 37-year-old stay-at-home mom. "I'm not out to change his opinions. I don't see this as a character flaw with him. He's an adult and has had a lot of time to think things through. He had different life experiences."
Surprisingly, there might be an upside to disagreeing politically. Research in romantic love and long-term relationships suggests that we tend to pursue relationships that help us grow as an individual. "One way to grow is to have a partner who helps you learn new perspectives and shares new knowledge," Lewandowski explains. "If partners hold different political views, there is more potential for them to learn from each other in a way that expands their sense of self."
Now and then, the simple act of listening to each other will even result in someone budging a bit in their stance. "There are lots of reasons why I vote Democrat, but my husband did help open my eyes to some issues," says Emilie. "Like small businesses. He helped me understand the perspective of people who are concerned about higher tax rates."
The key is this: Differences can't be so large that neither person finds any value in the other's perspective. "So if they are wildly different, the relationship may not have started in the first place, or if it did, it will likely have a lot more instability," Lewandowski explains.
For Bryan Knutson, it's all about communication and compromise. As he adorably puts it, "I think that love can overcome politics."
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