(NewsNation) — As the 2020 presidential election neared, Barbara Thomas thought she knew who her husband, Rick Hotchner, was going to vote for.
She was stunned when she heard he was voting for Donald Trump.
“I had been assuming based on what happened in 2016 that Rick was going to vote for a third party,” said Thomas, a retired U.S. diplomat and liberal. “I felt like the earth was opening up underneath my feet because it confused me and really made me question whether I understood where he was coming from at all.”
Hotchner, a “principled conservative” as his wife described him, didn’t take it personally, but listened to what Thomas had to say.
“She kept talking about how I’m a person of integrity, I’m an honest person, sincere in my beliefs, thoughtful, do my research, and so given all that and how she saw things differently, she just couldn’t understand how I was making that choice,” Hotchner said.
That Hotchner, a retired CIA executive, and his wife of 15 years have opposing political views isn’t all that uncommon. It’s how they’re putting their differences to use, an effort they detailed Monday on “CUOMO.”
The couple became ambassadors for Braver Angels, a grassroots organization that seeks to build bridges between conservatives and liberals. Using workshops, debates and group meetings, the organization helps people build communication skills and hear people across the aisle.
While political differences may seem trivial, the 2020 vote wasn’t for Thomas, who found it challenging to represent American interests abroad given what she viewed as divisiveness being fomented by the Trump administration. She was so angry that she began writing letters to her husband to communicate.
“He wrote back, and that allowed us to gather our thoughts, measure our words and not be so reactive in the moment,” Thomas said. “It made me think about how the Democratic rhetoric appears to people on the other side.”
As the couple began their work with Braver Angels, they each learned valuable lessons about communication and listening. For Hotchner, it was all about changing tone.
“You need to change the mindset that you’re using when you come into a conversation and you’re trying to communicate across differences,” Hotchner said. “Barbara didn’t try to convince me of anything. She really was seeking to understand me, which was a theme of how she approached political discussions with me.”
After working through their own differences, the couple is setting out to help others achieve the same, with Braver Angels as the vehicle for change.
“(The organization) teaches the mindset and the skills that people need to communicate effectively with people with whom they disagree,” Barbara said. “It helps people get past those stereotypes and maintain connections in their lives.”