Wednesday, May 22, 2024

My partner has become increasingly right wing conservative in his world view

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Dear Roe,

My partner and I moved abroad more than 10 years ago as expats. We are both 40. We are planning to move back home to Ireland in the next year. While abroad, my partner has become increasingly right wing conservative in his world view, mostly I believe as a response to the cultural climate of the country that we currently live in. Unfortunately, he now waxes lyrical about how Ireland is acquiescing to the whims of the “woke mob” and has expressed to me that he does not think he will be able to adjust to life back at home as even his elderly parents are horrified about his newfound love of conspiracy theories and autocrats. Recently, a conversation between my partner and my own father went totally off the rails, when my partner rudely mocked my dad for expressing concerns about the influence of the alt right during the Dublin riots. My partner was never like this when he lived in Ireland, he was definitely more moderate if not socially liberal. I am more left of centre and cannot have a reasonable discussion with him about politics, abortion, LGBTQ topics etc without him becoming defensive and exhorting me to “open my eyes to the truth”. My partner is a great person otherwise, and I love him dearly. He has a kind and gentle side, which is being buried by all this nonsense. I am terrified of my partner embarrassing himself in front of our friends and family when we move back to Ireland. I desperately want him to revert to the person he was before we immigrated. It makes me so sad. Any advice?

Your partner and I do not align politically and would likely end up arguing over a dinner table, would the occasion ever arise. I’m explicitly stating this because I’m not going to pretend that my answer is unbiased. I’m also flagging that anyone who uses the word “woke” as a pejorative will likely not appreciate this column (or my thoughts generally) and so in the interest in saving those people time and rising blood pressure, I’m giving them the chance to bail now and go read anything else in the world.

Disclaimers completed, so back to you, dear Letter Writer.

This may be a deal-breaker that ends your relationship, which I think you know. Some people are happy being with partners who hold very different political opinions — but that’s not the relationship you signed up for. Your partner has changed drastically over time, and his changed values, ways of thinking, and modes of interacting no longer feel compatible with what you want in a partner. Remove the specifics of the political beliefs, and what you’re experiencing is growing incompatibility in a relationship, which many people experience. People can change in all kinds of ways that can lead to the relationship ending; for example, shifts in their goals, life plans, priorities and personalities. Becoming incompatible over time is a perfectly valid reason to end a relationship.

I say this because sometimes there can be a reductive, simplistic rhetoric around political beliefs as if it’s something people should just get over; that we should simply not bring politics up at the dinner table and everything will be fine. But a partner suddenly embracing a worldview that is at odds with your own is reason enough to end a relationship. You get to leave if you want to — and I personally would.

But if you do think this is worth working on and want to address this with your partner, focus on values. Something that I find fascinating about western conservatism in particular is how little focus there is on building, developing or creating anything that doesn’t involve limiting the rights of others. There’s a very intense sense of being against a lot, and being for very little. There’s also a cultish obsession with being the group who “really” knows what’s going on, and who can claim the one “truth”, which is why there’s been such a rise in not only conspiracy theories but media figures who claim that everyone else is lying and they alone will speak honestly. This hasn’t come out of nowhere; people feel disenfranchised, lonely and powerless, and are seeking out some sense of control in a world where they otherwise don’t feel valued or heard. Most of us can understand those emotions, but I also think there are ways of addressing those needs and emotions without oppressing, disrespecting or instilling fear in others. Many people feel lonely and powerless — what we do with those feelings, and whether we try to empower others or push them down, shows our value system.

I’m not just explaining this for the sake of soapboxing, but to give you an entry point to speak to your partner. Arrange a time and tell him it’s clear that his world view has changed significantly since you first met and that you’re struggling to process those changes and figure out if your values are still compatible. See what he says and if he has any immediate thoughts. If he asks for examples, focus on the values he displayed when you got together — not just politically, but personally. Speak about how when you fell in love with him, you admired his empathy, embrace of nuance, desire to treat others respectfully, desire for the world to be safer for everyone, curiosity and desire to learn from others and whatever the case may be. Be specific and list the things he stood for, not against. Then note the changes you have observed and how they seem to reflect a different set of values and explain how it’s impacting your connection with him.

Use “I” statements here, like “I feel like we used to value having engaged, respectful conversations between ourselves and with others, but from my perspective, it feels like you value ‘winning’ conversations more now. I feel like you mock me and others during conversations, and the way you speak to me makes me feel disrespected and makes me not want to discuss topics with you, when I used to love how respectful and engaged our conversations were.” You can make other points about the values he used to display versus how you feel like he has changed: moving from valuing empathy to control; moving from valuing equality to superiority; moving from valuing listening and learning to being the person “in the know”; moving from valuing being open-minded to being defensive and closed off; and moving from valuing connecting with his friends and family to pushing them away. Keep it grounded in your experience of his changes.

Then, pay attention to how he reacts. You are explaining to your partner that you feel distant from him, that his behaviour is driving you (and others) away, and that you feel like your values are no longer compatible. He either values you and your relationship enough to take this seriously and look at his behaviour and make some changes, or he values his newfound belief system and desire to feel in control more, and won’t engage with you meaningfully.

If he seems genuinely invested in addressing these issues and committed to being with you and you want to try to make it work, I recommend getting a couples counsellor who will help you get back to understanding each other and speaking respectfully.

But think very carefully about whether you want to be with this person for who he is now, or whether you’re holding on to a version of him that no longer exists. If that’s the case, it’s time to end the relationship, mourn what you once had, and find someone compatible with you today. Good luck.

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