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How to avoid a fight with your partner? If politically different, avoid watching news together – study

Conflict emerged in various ways, including disagreement over news sources and content, but also when one person failed to respond as intensely as their partner when the latter shared news that they found disturbing or alarming.

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By one estimate, as many as 30% of people are in romantic relationships with partners who do not share their political views. But in today’s hyperpartisan climate, how do couples with differing political perspectives decide which media to follow? And how do these decisions affect their discussions on political issues and their relationship in general?

A study – “Negotiating News: How Cross-Cutting Romantic Partners Select, Consume, and Discuss News Together” by Emily Van Duyn, and which appeared in Political Communication – explored these questions by conducting in-depth interviews with 67 people whose partners’ political views differed from their own. And for these couples, seemingly mundane decisions about media consumption became “especially difficult.”

Of the participants, 39 were female, 27 were male and one identified as non-binary. Most were in opposite-sex relationships and had been in their current relationship more than two years. The majority (42) of the study participants where white, 11 were Black, three were Hispanic and 11 were Asian.

Noted Van Duyn: “Their cross-cutting political views presented many challenges for these couples. Deciding which media to consume and whether to do so together or separately was difficult because it presented them with a choice about recognizing their political differences and finding a way to navigate them.

“They saw the news as inherently political, and their selection of a news outlet or the act of sharing an article or video meant they were intentionally pulling their partner into a recognition of their political differences.”

Partners’ differing political beliefs and/or identities created a need to influence or negotiate their news consumption, a process that Van Duyn calls “negotiated exposure” and that played out across public-facing media such as television and those that are more private in nature like social media.

This process and the interpersonal conflict that resulted from it “often worked in tandem to reinforce one another and impact the relationship,” Van Duyn said. “Conflict resulting from news consumption often caused individuals to seek greater control of their news exposure, a reinforcing process that highlights the muddled order in how individuals simultaneously navigate news and relationships in contemporary democracy.”

Van Duyn noted that, in fact, some couples sought a common media outlet they could agree on to co-view together, but others intentionally chose to consume news independently, whether in separate rooms or by scrolling their social media feeds on separate devices while in each other’s company. Other individuals sought ways of consuming news with their partner that superseded their differences and utilized other news media privately, according to the study.

“The point in their relationship when couples’ political differences emerged affected how partners negotiated news with one another,” Van Duyn said. “While some were aware of their ideological differences at the outset of the relationship, other individuals found their shared tradition of amicably co-viewing the news together disrupted when their partners’ views or party affiliation changed. Negotiations around news selection in cross-cutting relationships involved a negotiation of political identity as much as of news exposure.”

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Van Duyn said that some of those who chose news avoidance cited heightened conflict within their relationship or mental health concerns such as anxiety.


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