Love vs. Politics: How News Coverage Triggers Fights in Divided Couples

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — As U.S. politics continue to heat up ahead of the 2024 presidential election, researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are offering a peek into the struggles of American couples with opposing political viewpoints. American politics have been extremely polarizing for quite some time now. Republicans and Democrats, whether it be on Capitol Hill itself or on social media, appear incapable of civil interaction on a disturbingly frequent basis. Now, researchers say the biggest trigger for political fights between romantic partners is news media coverage.

The team at UI set out to investigate what impact this has had on the estimated 30 percent of American adults in relationships with partners who do not share their political views. Communication professor Emily Van Duyn held in-depth interviews with 67 people dating someone with opposing political views. For these couples, study authors explain, decisions that appear mundane on the surface like choosing which TV channel to watch can be “especially difficult.”

“Their cross-cutting political views presented many challenges for these couples,” Prof. Van Duyn says in a university release. “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.”

Notably, news coverage in particular activated differences between partners that would have otherwise remained hidden, ultimately sparking conflict as well as discussion and debate. Political conflicts between partners materialized in various ways, such as disagreements over news sources and content, or one person failing to respond as intensely as their significant other after the latter shared a particular piece of news they considered especially disturbing or alarming.

Young black African American couple sitting in living room on couch and arguing over television remote control
Researchers say couples often fight over which news outlets they watch in divided households. (Credit: Shutterstock)

These differing political beliefs or identities in relationships created the need for couples to influence or negotiate their news consumption. Researchers call this process “negotiated exposure,” and it was apparent across public-facing media like television as well as those that are more private in nature such as social media.

This process, and the interpersonal conflicts stemming from it, “often worked in tandem to reinforce one another and impact the relationship,” Prof. Van Duyn comments. “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.”

Notably, Prof. Van Duyn opted to interview just one member of each relationship. The team did this so that the interviewees would feel comfortable talking freely without any concerns of possibly impacting their relationship or insulting their partners’ views. To protect everyone’s privacy, participants recruited through social media ads used pseudonyms.

Among all of these individuals, 39 were women, 27 were men, and one person identified as non-binary. The majority of participants were in heterosexual relationships and had been seeing their partner for more than two years. Most were White (42), while 11 were Black, another 11 were Asian, and three were Hispanic.

One participant was a 46-year-old Virginia woman identified as “Wendy” in the study. Wendy was a Donald Trump-supporting Republican, but her boyfriend of two years was a Democrat who voted for Hillary Clinton. Wendy explained to study authors that she and her partner compromised when it came to watching the news; she had control over programming during the morning hours and her partner took over the remote control during the afternoon.

President Donald Trump gestures the pointing finger to his supporters during a campaign rally
Recently, many couples have been divided over the political campaigns of President Donald Trump. (Photo by Evan El-Amin on Shutterstock)

Still, due to their opposing views on then-President Trump, co-viewing TV news together created serious friction in the relationship. This became especially true when Wendy decided there was too much negative coverage of Trump and wanted to avoid it. Additionally, study authors say negative stories about Trump made Wendy not only vulnerable to her boyfriend’s criticism of her favored candidate, but also of herself, personally.

Meanwhile, other couples looked for a common media outlet they could agree on to watch together, while others simply chose to watch news separately. Some people searched for ways to consume news with their partner that superseded their differences while simultaneously watching other news media on a private basis.

Nancy, a 49-year-old Michigan woman who switched from voting Republican to voting Democrat in 2016 and 2020, explained her husband remained a steadfast Trump supporter that held political beliefs she described as “diametrically opposed” to her own. News was a major source of conflict between the couple, as was Nancy’s ideological shift in general, which her husband blamed on her viewing CNN.

So, while working from home Nancy responded by watching CNN secretly during the day while her spouse was out of the house. Furthermore, she even hid her political activity (working as a text banker for the Democratic party during the 2020 election) from her husband as well.

“The point in their relationship when couples’ political differences emerged affected how partners negotiated news with one another,” Prof. Van Duyn concludes. “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.”

When the news began to take a negative toll on some participants and their relationships, many couples decided to avoid the news altogether and stopped sharing articles or videos with each other. It just wasn’t worth the toll it was having on their emotional intimacy. Prof. Van Duyn notes that certain participants who adopted news avoidance did so because of conflicts within their relationship or mental health concerns like anxiety.

The study is published in the journal Political Communication.

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About the Author

John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

Studies and abstracts can be confusing and awkwardly worded. He prides himself on making such content easy to read, understand, and apply to one’s everyday life.

The contents of this website do not constitute advice and are provided for informational purposes only. See our full disclaimer


  1. We don’t talk politics or religion in our home. She watches news and I prefer to read mine. No arguments about the content. There are other things in life aside from politics.

    1. Exactly, if you cant pick your battles you will never last as a couple. Im an atheist and my girl is as big a religious zealot as there ever has been.
      She is mature enough to realize this is a losing battle, you might as well ask me to believe in the tooth fairy, so we just dont talk about it, there is a whole world of things to talk about other than religion and politics, neither of which effects your everyday life when you think about it.

      1. God will talk to you about it later. But you’ll need some heavy duty fire extinguishing and cooling equipment after the talk.

      2. “I’m an atheist” means, “Big thoughts make my head hurt.” We don’t have to follow dogma when contemplating unanswerable questions but some really smart people laid out guideposts which only fools dismiss.

    2. Because politics affects everything from education (for children who evade the abortion industry) to warfare, there aren’t really “other things”. You who are complacent merely pass the responsibility on to others.

  2. I am a newlywed and we have some of these issues too. My husband gets so upset if President Trump’s name comes up. I just don’t get it- the mainstream media is constantly talking about how divided we are but then they propagate these arguments and seem to just LOVE it. Do you care at all about society and what is happening to families? What I have found is that on mainstream media they like to agree with the liberal side and that influences their viewers – it’s opinion- not facts at all. They cite no studies or facts it’s just this discussion about ohh wouldn’t it be nice if…- also when you are a liberal you seem to not be able to ask hard questions of your liberal buddies- I haven’t seen the opposite be true. I think if I have to watch Margaret again on CBS Meet the Press- my head will explode.

    1. Kindra, I can identify. My wife ONLY watches MSNBC and thinks other viewpoints are nonsense. It drives me absolutely NUTS!!!! She will NOT consider any point of view I have.
      TRULY brainwashed by the MSM. Oh, she’s fully vaccinated too! Because MSM told her to do it, no matter what I counseled.

  3. Anyone who listens to news is a fool. Look how the networks (MSNBC in particular) butchered Trump’s victory speech. Liberal bias is all you get. Nothing more.

  4. Republican wife, convert to worm castings.
    Repubican husband. convert to high protein animal feed.

    1. Your opinion seems to be common among your tribe. That’s why those who share your values murdered over 150,000,000 (150 million for you ignoratti) innocents in the 20th century alone. That’s why conservatives think you need a reality check.

    2. You follow in the footsteps of the 3 biggest mass murders of last century, all Leftists: Mao, Stalin, and Hitler (yes, National SOCIALISM was a leftist ideology), along with Pol Pot and other lefties.

  5. Four keys to sanity.

    1) Don’t watch the ‘news’, it is ALL biased and unreliable.

    2) Do your own research and try to figure out the truth as best you can.

    3) Don’t take any of it too seriously, the world is unlikely to end no matter which idiot gets elected.

    4) Find other things to do and to talk about with your mate. We listen to murder mysteries and try to solve the case before the book ends.

    1. Dude. You need to get some lovin’. Most women are the bomb, And count me in as an animal lover. I love to see them and photograph them and be among them. I also like to eat them. If I don’t, another animal will. Have you ever enjoyed a hamburger or a steak or chicken or lobster on the grill? I know you’re not a vegetarian, because if you were, you’d be a submissive to some woman.

  6. We were joined in holy matrimony about 52 years ago. We worship together in a church. We study God’s Word in the Bible and we pray that His will be done on earth as it is in heaven, quite often. When two become one flesh, being also of one mind reinforces our commitment to each other. We are not divided, because scripture speaks very plainly about every moral issue of today as it has since it was written. We are both husband and wife and believers in Jesus Christ

    If you want to get along seek God’s direction, His mercy and forgiveness, and His wisdom. He teaches us how to forgive each other. I cannot think of anything more valuable than being forgiven.

  7. Republican men love democratic women.

    Republican women hate democratic men.

    So you dopey Republican men that marry Democratic women get what you deserve.

  8. Well let’s be real here. Anyone who’d marry a liberal needs their head examined. So it’s no surprise that there’d be conflict, given that you have two mentally disordered people living in the same household.

  9. Nothing new here.
    I am assuming the reason my girl gets so upset is she is watching the news. As of late she loves Nikki. I read more of my news because the video clips are of the non-Trump candidates listing what they think all the problems are and taking jabs. No solutions.
    As result we can’t talk about it as she has no reasons to like Nikki she just does. I am against big gov, taxes and wars. Totally against changing the border policy. Let’s enforce what is on the books before we make any changes. And more important the only candidate that has said out loud what to do with all the illegals let in under this regime’s and obamas neglect is Trump. Cannot promise i like his solution or think it is best. But right now it is the ONLY solution as none of the others have one.
    Once again studyfinds makes a statement without looking into the facts. It must be from DC or Fairfax.

  10. Two of the big reasons my wife and I are together after over 2 1/2 decades is we both have a strong belief in G-d, and keeping our covenant with Him; and we both are conservative and therefore subscribe to the belief that Donald Trump is the ONLY human being that can reverse the worst of the destruction caused by Democrats.

  11. I think most people have known for several years that it is not wise to get involved with a person on the other side of the political divide. I wouldn’t touch one of them with a ten-foot pole. But it was not always like this. For many of us ten years ago, that rule did not seem as essential as it does now, so a lot of people in long-term relationships must find themselves having to deal with this problem. I feel sorry for them.

    1. Strong men don’t deal with lawyers and swat teams any better than weak men when women’s liberation turn push to shove.

    1. The Bible says that in the last days before the return of the Lord, a man’s worst enemies will be those of his own household.Matthew 10:36.
      It also says to keeps your lips from her that lieth in your bosom during such times because you will be betrayed.

  12. This is to be expected when communists take over a country and tell women that they should have the right to have an opinion.

  13. Do not marry a liberal female or any female who displays liberal tendencies. Just run through them. That’s what they are for. Conservative females are you best bet.

  14. Forget left/right. It’s a mental health & quality of life issue.

    When the sane and happy marry they support Trump because they’re both sane (that means they have values that are life-affirming and not contradictory to reality) and they’re both happy (and Trump’s rational life-affirming policies will increase their happiness.)

    When the sane and happy marries the less sane and less happy, they’ll be a lot less happy as a couple because it will be the sane trying to reason with the not-sane. The not-sane wins the argument every time and the happiness eventually dies.

    When the insane and unhappy marry each other they vote for Democrats and continue to be very unhappy without change, for ever and ever.

    The end

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