LEWISBURG — “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
The saying may be more relevant than ever for romantic partners, observed T. Joel Wade, a Bucknell University professor of psychology. Wade has been teaching and reading about the psychology of attraction and relationships for over 30 years.
Wade said basic agreement on fundamentals such as religion and politics is good predictor of a relationship which will endure and be satisfying. He added it is hard to find research which supports the often-heard statement that “opposites attract.”
“That might appealing in the beginning, because here is somebody that is different than me,” he said. “But the appeal of it doesn’t last very long. You might have conflicts and really strong disagreements. You can imagine that if you are raising children and suddenly one partner wants the children to go to church and the other one says religion is not important.”
Similarly, conflict may arise if one partner feels strong identification as a Democrat while the other is resolutely Republican.
Wade says compromise is possible, but it can be difficult when a fundamental value or aspect of personality runs deep. It can get more difficult as partners get older and stay together.
“Suddenly the thing that the person was always willing to ignore or overlook because it is something fundamental they are no longer willing to do that,” Wade said. “They’ve matured, perhaps they’ve thought more about it. Maybe their life circumstances are such that there are issues now that they have to deal with that involve this very core value.”
When partners fight over politics or other deeply-held beliefs, Wade noted that the damage done by “winning” the other over to a particular point of view may damage the relationship beyond repair.
A notable exception to the notion that a partner who wears a “blue tie” cannot successfully mate with a partner who wears a “red tie” would be the marriage of James Carville and Mary Matalin. The union of the Democratic strategist and former Republican consultant has by all appearances proven to be a happy one.
While not necessarily referring to the high profile couple, Wade has found that people who are secure in their attachments to others tend to be people who were well-nurtured by a parent or caregiver. He noted age 2 is a critical stage for healthy development.
“Individuals with those kind of attachment styles usually have an easier time dealing with the kinds of differences we are talking about,” Wade said. “That person is secure enough in themselves that they are willing to perhaps joke, laugh about the differences, make comprimises and not feel they are losing themselves.”
Wade acknowledged that a couple can have a single major difference in their relationship and live with it successfully. Often, he observed partners in those cases have a high degree of similarity in other fundamental areas of importance.
“My guess would be that Matalin is probably as secure and maybe has the same type of sense of humor as Carville,” Wade said. “They both in different situations wind up compromising and laughing. Those kind of individuals have the easiest time.”
Married since 1993, both high-profile partners have gone on the record saying they do not talk politics at home. Matalin reportedly left the GOP and registered as a Libertarian in 2016.