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The Future Of Us All

I am concerned about the state of the Union or more accurately "Disunion". As a psychologist, I regularly treat couples in distress. For some time, I have applied that experience to the division that exists in our country between Right and Left. In my office, I have a stuffed chair for me and a couch for my patients. In the beginning, the couple usually sits glued to each side, as far away from each other as they can get. The session begins with each person telling me and their significant other what is wrong with them and how all of the problems are being caused by their lack of understanding, their stubbornness, their self-centeredness, their allegiance to their parents/extended family, their violence, their substance use, etc., etc., etc. This is often a heated exchange which leaves each person feeling isolated, hurt, angry and hopeless.

At that point or perhaps earlier, I ask each what they want from the therapy. Do they want to repair the relationship? Is divorce/breakup on the table? Are they unsure? If both assert their commitment to the marriage/relationship, my job is easier. If they do not, it is more difficult as the fracture is obviously more severe and the emotional distance between them that much greater. In either case, fairly early in the treatment I tell them that when I look at them sitting on my couch, I see them but above them on the wall between them, I see the marriage/relationship. I then tell them that everything we do, that they do, going forward needs to be in service of that entity for us to succeed. For this success to occur, both must embrace the good of that whole above their own individual needs. If they cannot, then the division that brought them to me will continue as will the destructive emotions and behavior that result.

As the treatment progresses, we address issues of conflict and concern in search of an acceptable resolution, one that reflects BOTH of them. I explain to them that most conflicts in life are not a matter of absolute right and wrong, but a matter of preference, chocolate and vanilla. I do this because most us think in "either-or, all or nothing" terms. If we do, we'll likely feel that our belief is good and the other's is bad. It is a short step from there to conclude that the person themselves is bad also. When we feel that we are good, right, correct, virtuous, there is little room for the other person. If the couple can accept that their differences are a matter of preference and not absolute right and wrong, we can begin the search for resolution without the acrimony that accompanies a holy crusade. It is said that more people have been killed in the name of god than any other reason. Whether true or not, the principle is compelling. And if you don't think that allegiances can be serious to the point of being life-threatening, consider the Red Sox fan going to a bar full of Yankee fans or vice versa. Politics, religion and sports can bring out the worst in most of us.

Great but how does this apply to our national situation? AOC, in what I consider her immaturity, said gleefully of the recent senate runoff in Georgia: if we win, we won't have to negotiate. With the presidency and majorities in the Congress, she is correct. But what happens if the resolution to conflicts in the marriage/relationship are resolved by one person imposing their will on the other, even if justified by some measure of power or position? The "winner" may feel satisfied, but the "loser" will likely feel defeated, powerless, isolated or despondent depending upon the importance of the issue. Such a resolution would violate the principle of serving the good of the relationship over the needs of the individual. And the relationship would suffer. When the Left decried Trump as an autocrat, they were expressing the understandable feelings of being left out of the decision. Similarly, if the Left imposes its will on the minority, i.e. fails to see the wisdom of negotiation to reach a representative resolution, then the minority will feel disaffected, powerless and abused. Compromise is the healthy resolution of conflict in marriages/relationships because both partners feel that their opinion/preference was valued. Compromise can take different forms. Often a third option that gives each person part of what they want is possible. Sometimes a third option is not possible. Taking turns is also compromise. We'll do it your way this time and my way the next time. In either case, the common good of the marriage/relationship is served.

If the treatment fails and the couple is unable to find commonality and common purpose, divorce is likely. Divorce in political terms would be civil war. And like divorce, it is often nasty, bringing out the worst in the litigants. My fear is that too many of our leaders will be like Trump and AOC and less like MLK or statesman from an earlier, less divided time who could always see the Nation on the wall between the Right and Left.

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