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Wife for Leni, Husband for Bongbong: How Couples Overcome Toxic Politics

In sickness and in health, til elections do you part?
by Pia Regalado
Feb 15, 2022
Photo/s: Shutterstock

In one of their worst arguments on who to vote for on May 9, Carla said her husband, a supporter for Bongbong Marcos, woke her up in the middle of the night to argue why she was supporting Leni Robredo, leading to one of those periods of no talking to each other.

The 31-year-old medicine graduate said she and her husband would take turns breaking the silence, knowing that while they are polar opposites when it comes to election politics, they swore before God to love each other in sickness and in health, until death.

Less than three months before one of the most divisive presidential elections in the Philippines, choosing between Robredo and Marcos can sometimes drive a wedge between friends, family, couples and spouses.

Carla, who declined to reveal her full name, told reportr that her husband's idea of a good citizen is someone who doesn't complain, while as a UP alumna, she is wired to be vocal when criticizing the government.

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"It was very heated, I was very sleepy and tired. I ended up crying out of frustration that he wasn’t budging and he kept giving me the same reasons that people who spend too much time on the internet keep giving," she recalled the night her busband woke her up to argue with her.

"He comes from an emotionally detached family so it’s on me to help him sort it out. I’m not emotionally mature myself so he’s the same with me when I have my moments. We somehow are able to take turns at being level-headed."

For Carla, election season meant couples who have divergent views need to be more understanding of each other to avoid arguments getting out of hand.


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Conflict is part of a healthy relationship

In any relationship, conflicts are opportunities to discuss and reconcile differences, said family and marriage therapist Kay Bunagan. What's important is to engage beyond slogans to be aware of the "whys" without judgment.

"The crucial part there is for conflict to lead to more understanding, not necessarily always a resolution. Sometimes, may problems na walang resolution."

The goal is to understand where your partner is coming from, Bunagan said. When attempting to reach a composmise, allow your partner to express their thoughts and how they arrived at their decision to support their candidate.

Robredo supporter Liv, whose partner of 13 years is an Iglesia ni Cristo member and faithfully practices the church's bloc voting, said that when political talks become heated between them, it helps when one of them knows when to argue and when to shut up.

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"We understand each other’s upbringing and we bore witness to each other’s changes. Naiintindihan kong wala siyang masyadong opinion sa politics because his family isn’t that invested. He knows I have a lot of opinions about so many things. So we have this solid foundation which we lean on in trying times," she told reportr.

Carla the medicine graduate grew up in a family that campaigned for both the Marcoses and the Dutertes. She said she "peacefully lives with people" whose beliefs differ from hers. When conflicts arise, she and her husband turn to their faith.

"Hindi bawal pag-usapan ang politics, but how to talk about politics kasi nandoon ang engagement and growth when we talk to people who may not believe the same things we believe in," said Bunagan.

How to talk about politics

Everyone has the right to express who they are voting for and why as long as there are no insults or abuse involved, said Bunagan. Even when you think you're right, it wouldn't help to force your beliefs on others without proper conversation.

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Bunagan has some tips for those who want to engage their partners in political discourse:

Do an emotion check first

Easily triggered? Tired? Notice your voice climbing a notch in anger? Pause first to temper the emotions, she said. Open-mindedness and patience are important to keep the conversation going, she said.

Listen to understand, not to argue

Take turns listening and speaking without interruption, Bunagan said. It's more likely for a person to listen if they know they are respected when they talk.

Ask more questions

When quizzing your partner about their choices, always come from a place of curiosity instead of attacking the person, she said.

"In trying to persuade others, we try to listen first not necessarily sino ang gusto mo[ng kandidato], pero mas mahalaga malaman bakit, ano 'yung nakita mo?"

Carla said her husband roused her from sleep to pick a fight because he was arguing with another Robredo supporter online. Instead of being angry, she processed it by asking him how he was triggered.

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"I learned to use this technique on my husband because I think it makes him feel less attacked and opens up a discussion instead of an argument."

If you or your partner won't budge, agree to disagree

If any of you is hard-pressed on supporting a candidate the other dislikes, come to a healthy compromise of agreeing to disagree.

"Karapatan din kasi nila na magkaron sila ng opinyon in the same way na ayaw nating galawin opinyon natin. Puwede pag-usapan para may growth, para may intindihan," Bunagan said.

There's more to love, politics aside

Carla said that while it's taxing to deal with opposing views, she has to remind herself that it's just one aspect of her partner, or anyone whose political beliefs differ from hers. Transforming their beliefs won't happen overnight when it means dealing with the effects of social media echo chambers and fake news.

"Their politics will almost always stem from experiences they find similar or different with the way they process this environment... That reminds me to come from a place of love and understanding and it helps me to hold space for them," said Carla.

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Liv said her partner would always remind her that they are more than their political leanings. "It’s an active choice to stay in love despite the differences. Radikal ang magmahal ng hindi mo kakulay."

Bunagan said that the fight is bigger than each other's clashing political views. Engaging in meaningful conversation opens opportunities for both parties to grow, if not reach a consensus on politics.

"Kahit magkaiba ang paniniwala, puwedeng magmahalan pa rin," she said.

Family and marriage therapist Kay Bunagan is a licensed clinical and counseling psychologist affiliated with Better Steps Inc., a group of licensed professionals providing mental health nd wellness services.

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