AmyRuth Bartlett, MA, LPC
201 S. Skinker Blvd, Saint Louis, MO 63105 (314) 520-8167

Government Shutdown Or Marital Disfunction?

It occured to me as I was thinking about the crisis currently facing our country this morning that our leaders could benefit from some marriage counseling.  Fiscal problems loom large as the debt ceiling gets higher or breaks all together.  Programs promised to dependents are in jeopardy.  Noise, chaos, complaints, and arguments about how nothing is fair grow into a loud roar.  And across the aisle, which may as well be an infinite schism, the headless horsemen of criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling (per Gottman) launch their attack on the enemy (read partner, co-leader…).

Real discussion of the issues has long been replaced by mockery in the form of “parlaimentary inquiry”.  And in the face of such obvious contempt (even though it is made up in large part by justified criticism) the other party feels flooded.  This causes the part of the brain, that may on a good day be capable of finding solutions for difficult problems, to go off line, and in its place the strong urge to fight, flee, or freeze in terror is all that’s left.

I’m sure this doesn’t look like any of your arguments with your spouse over money or some other issue with the kids hollering for more attention, and resources while pointing out your deficiencies as parents.  (It’s certainly not what my home was like this morning which was also not why I found myself thinking about the current state of our union)  But if it was…and these individuals happened to also seek counseling for the gridlock they were in…here are a few things they might learn.

  1. Listening to your partner is key.  Knowing what they are going to say is not the same thing as listening – even if you are 100% right about what you thought would come out of their mouth.  Listening is an actual relational event that encourages calm and higher brain functioning in your partner!  (There’s some neuroscience behind that for another day).  Try it:
    1. Listen.
    2. Reflect what you have heard that person say and ask for clarification.
    3. Ask what the most important part is.
    4. Repeat steps 1 and 2
    5. Ask what (if anything) they want to do and/or want you to do regarding the topic being discussed.
    6. Repeat steps 1 and 2
    7. Finally, inquire if there is anything else your partner wants to say on the topic and…
    8. Repeat steps 1 and 2
  2. Complain to your partner.  Don’t criticize them.  A complaint focuses on a specific behavior, while a criticism attacks the character of the person.  I’m sure you hear it as often as I do; One party villainizing the other side as opposed to making specific complaints.  All of us have selfish motives mixed in with even the best of our intentions.  So while we cannot easily stop being selfish, we canchoose something that is better suited for the people around us, and the same is true of our partners.
  3. There is no law against love.  While much is said about those who are right in their own eyes, or haughty and arrogant, not one law in the Bible speaks prohibitively towards loving someone else even at great personal cost.  This doesn’t mean lay down for every argument or run away from conflict (because let’s face it – that’s called cowardice not love), but it does mean that sometimes loving is more important than being right.  And sometimes we can’t even see what is right with the other person until we make a choice to love them.

So while I’m not expecting a call from Congress to ask me what I think about the situation, I know what my answer would be if they did.  Somewhere along the way, and with tons of good intention (as none of us like pain and it seems inhumane to allow any of us to continue suffering if there is in fact an easier way out), we decided that marriage was primarily a self-serving institution, and the skills required to maintain a moderately healthy marraige were useful only so long as that marriage continued to bring more happiness than pain.

As it turns out, marriage may be the smaller arena where God has given us time to practice, day in and day out, the skills that we need to realize our potential in the larger arenas of life.  And to that end I will also be praying for the marriages of our congress men and women to thrive!