This fall my partner ran for public office. It was a first time for us both. While she was unsuccessful, losing by a mere 300 votes, the experience was very instructive for both of us. Running for public office requires you to “put yourself out there” and invest enormous emotional and physical energy for a very uncertain payoff. Supporting the candidate is a critical task for any partner and it is safe to say that our family learned a lot from Theo’s first campaign. Here are six ways to support a spouse running for public office.
Running for office is an all-consuming job. It’s important that at least somebody in the relationship is able to stabilize things by holding down the fort at home and with the family. Since it is a defined period of time, staying flexible to help your partner meet their demands is crucial. This might involve you missing out on some engagements or friend time. However, making small sacrifices allows your partner to know you’ve got their back and also allows them to work every angle possible to connect with voters.
Have contagious enthusiasm
Chances are they will have other folks who can act as handlers and professional critics. But usually the candidate most needs someone who has their back, regardless of the dips of the campaign. This is critical because most candidates will, at some point or another, question why they ever decided to run. That’s because putting yourself out there and asking friends, colleagues, family and complete strangers is really, really hard. Your partner will count on your optimism and your support. They usually need a cheerleader more than a campaign manager. Keep positive, even if sometimes you aren’t feeling particularly optimistic.
It’s almost guaranteed that, during a campaign, your relationship will be tested. When Theo and I first got together, I was working for a political party. The long hours of multiple campaigns sometimes made our relationship feel like we were trying to survive a tropical storm in a dingy. Ten years later, similar stresses (missing the partner, obsessive focus on the campaign, no date nights, loneliness) made things tough from time to time. But this time we knew what we were getting into and it felt more like weathering a storm in a big ocean-worthy yacht. Knowing what we were going through and managing our expectations – both in terms of responsibilities and emotional needs – was critical to keeping our relationship healthy.
Always communicate. Especially when things really start going off the rails. Sometimes candidates can be blinded by their goal at hand (getting elected) and aren’t aware of the havoc the election is having on their family life. Being flexible is important – but it shouldn’t force you to stand idly by as your relationship falls apart. It’s important to communicate with your partner so they are aware of any serious resentments that are festering. It’s also important to show them your support and to let them know how proud you are of what they are doing. Setting aside times everyday (in our case it was later in the evening after all the events were finished and baby was down sleeping) to go over the day, celebrate wins and strategize on how to solve upcoming challenges was key.
Make it a family affair
It can be lonely on the campaign trail for the spouse. A lot of events and activities happen in the evening and if you are the one stuck at home with a child, you may feel like you are missing out. For the candidate, it can be an isolating experience. They are meeting loads of new people, but often in very superficial ways. Plus it is exhausting to always be ‘on’. Finding ways to integrate family time into the campaign – be it for door knocking, dropping by political events or other activities – can be a good glue to add to the family unit. It also adds a new supporting dynamic that the candidate can fall back on if they just can’t handle another small talk session or round of shaking random hands.
Have an after plan
Recognizing that it isn’t always going to be a “campaign life” is an important thing to do support your loved one. It gives you both license to be more flexible and to focus on a goal. The finite nature of it all also allows you to set goals and a vision beyond what can feel like an all-consuming cycle. Think through and talk about the next steps. You will want to find calibration post-election day – in our case, that was a trip to the pumpkin patch and a homemade pumpkin soup dinner. You’ll also want to be prepared for the bad news that you were unsuccessful. For many candidates, this can be emotionally crushing. Ultimately though, there’s a good life after the campaign and as their partner it’s important that you deliberately shine the light on that