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For couples, siblings with opposing political views, maintaining a happy relationship is possible

When it comes to politics, Kirsten Donohue and her husband, Kevin, disagree about "pretty much everything," she said. She leans left, he to the right.

"It's rare that we agree."

Intense political campaigning and relentless, pointed messaging can ignite emotions and stir conflict. As a result, relationships may suffer.

On the home front, keeping disagreements from escalating into all-out war can be a challenge for family members who hold divergent views.

For couples with opposite political philosophies, maintaining a happy marriage is possible "but very difficult," Kirsten said.

"It's even more difficult if you have children. You want your kids to have the same background as you."

The Donohues have adopted what they deem is a fair approach.

"We don't try to sway them one way or another. My husband knows that I'd be mad if I saw him trying to push the kids to one side or the other.

"We present both sides of an issue, and let them decide."

The couple does see eye-to-eye on one other thing at least: no yard signs outside of their Minneapolis home.

But, at times, their discussions indoors heat up.

"He tries to convince me; he gets frustrated," she said. "At the end, we agree to disagree."

'Agree to disagree'

Kirsten considers these exchanges "an opportunity," she said. "We don't fight about things, generally. We have a pretty peaceful life.

"So occasionally, when there is an argument, it's kind of fun."

Over time, she has noticed a shift in her own attitudes.

"As I've gotten older, I am more conservative in my views. I can appreciate the other side more," she said. "Sometimes, he'll say something and I'll say, 'Oh my gosh, I never thought of that.'

"It's good to have an open mind -- that's huge -- and to listen."

Couples should recognize that they have differences "and put that on the table, so it doesn't ruin your marriage," she said. "You may have to agree to disagree."

For the most part, political differences haven't harmed the Donohues' relationship.

"We respect each other."

When the election is over, Kirsten doesn't expect the "victor" to gloat, although "internally, I might."

At that point, "it's gone, it's over," she said. "You have a life, you have a continuum. You always want to find a balance."

Brothers at odds

For brothers Tim and Sam Granum, who grew up in Plummer, Minn., humor may be the glue that bonds them, despite opposing political stances.

Facebook has become the stage where arguments are fought.

"I'll post stuff and he'll respond to it, or the other way around," said conservative Tim of Thief River Falls.

He and his brother, who lives in Minneapolis, can "go back and forth" on Facebook for hours, he said. "Most of the time it's just us trying to have a little bit of fun.

"At the end of the day, we're still brothers. I don't know too many brothers who don't argue at all."

Sometimes, Tim admits he intentionally "may go a little beyond" his actual views, knowing that Sam "will get ticked off or fired up."

Hopefully, he said, their Facebook followers "get a little bit of a laugh."

Sam said, "We're kind of doing it for a show. We call each other 'socialist' or 'fascist,' and end up joking and laughing.

"You can either laugh or cry. We choose to laugh. We've come to a pretty healthy agreement about it."

Their political tussles began during the 2004 Bush-Gore contest, when Sam, 26 and six years younger than Tim, was preparing to vote for the first time.

More recently, the issues of gun control, voter identification and gay marriage have sparked their battles.

A "big argument" about gun control after the shooting at the Colorado theatre caused Sam to "de-friend" his brother on Facebook for awhile, said Tim, a former Marine.

"My view is that as long as you have no criminal record, it should be a little easier for law-abiding citizens" to obtain guns.

Sam is in favor of more restrictions on gun ownership.

Sam also has been "pushing" Tim to vote in support of gay marriage this fall.

Tim said Sam has convinced him that gay partners should have certain rights in matters such as health insurance and "next-of-kin" status, but Tim does not sanction marriage for homosexuals.

With the gay marriage amendment, "it's been actually really hard," Sam said. "I was best man at his wedding. To know that any kind of relationship I might have in the future wouldn't be as equal as his, that's difficult."

If the amendment passes today (Nov. 6), "I don't know how I'll deal with that because it's so personal," Sam said. "The next day, I'll be depressed, and sad, knowing that Tim voted for it."

Sam hopes that "10 years down the road," Tim will change his mind on this issue, he said. "Maybe, he'll see it in a more practical light."

'Blood thicker than politics'

Sam doesn't foresee political differences damaging his relationship with his brother.

"It's a pretty stupid thing, if it does," he said. "Politics is abstract, out there. Family is close to me. It's a question of priorities."

He's used to being in the minority, he said. Most of his family members, who live in the Red River Valley, are moderate or conservative.

At gatherings, "they may say, 'oh here comes Sam with his crazy liberal ideas,' but it doesn't get malicious."

While the brothers have "some pretty heated arguments," Tim said, "the next day, we'll talk about something else. I'll kind of shrug it off.

"At the end of the day, we're still brothers."

Sam agrees.

"Blood is thicker than politics," he said. "Our relationship is stronger than politics. We both respect each other. We each appreciate the other side.

"I respect him enough to still keep trying to convert him."

He's actually "happy" that Tim disagrees, Sam said. "It would be boring if he agreed with me, or if everyone agreed with me."

He looks for humor in the situation.

"If you don't see the ridiculousness, the absurdity, of what's going on right now, you just want to cry."

After the election, he said, "I'm expecting a concession speech from Tim."

Interpersonal dynamics

Richard Aregood, UND journalism professor, said he's "lucky" when it comes to politics and family relationships.

He and his children "don't disagree very much," he said.

"My children, at least they haven't told me if they've voted Republican."

He considers one of his son's gestures a sign of respect.

"My son has a golf picture of himself with Rick Santorum. When I visit him, he puts it away."

But Aregood is "pretty certain" his son is not a Republican.

Growing up in New Jersey, his children were steeped in politics, he said. Their mother served as Democratic mayor in their hometown.

"If any of my kids were Republicans, they wouldn't be a jerk about it."

At family gatherings, they don't discuss politics much, he said. "There's a lot more interesting things to talk about."

In matters of interpersonal dynamics, it's a fairly simple proposition, he said.

"It all comes down to, do you like each other?"

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