A marriage counselor’s tips for solving the shutdown impasse

October 10, 2013
(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Acrimony, shouting, retreating to corners — those aren’t just signs of Washington dysfunction, they’re symptoms of a marriage in trouble. Since there are so many parallels between the two institutions, we consulted with Manhattan marriage counselor Jean Fitzpatrick to get the advice she gives to couples working through conflicts that might also apply to the current impasse.

Here are a few of her tips:

Stop the blame game –  When couples come in, Fitzpartrick says they often want to talk about how whatever is wrong is all their partner’s fault. But blame, she says, gets you nowhere.

Focus on the future – Instead, she urges clients to focus on what they want to build, and why they got together in the first place. (For couples, that’s usually because they fell in love, she notes, but for public officials, it’s often more along the lines of “love of country” or the like.)

“Then ask yourselves ‘what can we do now to make this better?’” she counsels.

Words matter — This one is right on the nose. “If you keep repeating yourself, you’re not being effective,” she tells clients who are fighting.

Talking points, anyone?

Lose the echo chamber — Fitzpatrick warns clients against confiding in friends who will always take their side and demonize their spouse. Much like the hyper-partisans who each party relies on to cheer on their every move and excoriate their enemies, these folks only stoke conflict.

“Build a support network of people who are friends of the marriage,” she advises, who will listen and understand that neither partner is perfect.

Nurture relationships — She encourages couples to focus on parts of their relationship that don’t have anything to do with the source of the current conflict. “Walk around your city together like tourists, have a shared experience together,” she advises.

Too bad the museums are closed!

Emily Heil is the co-author of the Reliable Source and previously helped pen the In the Loop column with Al Kamen.
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Emily Heil · October 10, 2013