Marriage counselor offers Beltway’s budget battlers a guide to kissing and making up

Al Kamen
Columnist October 11, 2013

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.

(And just like so many sources of marital friction, the root of the disagreement in Washington isn’t necessarily clear. Is it Obamacare? Entitlement cuts?)

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

Whatever the argument, here are a few of her tips:

Stop the blame game: When couples come to her office, Fitzpatrick 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 whom each party relies on to cheer 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 relationships that don’t have anything to do with the source of the current conflicts. “Walk around your city together like tourists, have a shared experience together,” she advises.

Too bad for the warring factions on Capitol Hill that the museums are closed.

Cocktails, on hold

The government shutdown is having a most troubling effect across the pond in London, where a lavish cocktail party on tap this week for new U.S. Ambassador Matthew Barzun has been postponed.

The party at the tony Connaught hotel, sponsored by Tatler, a CondéNast publication, promised “many pyramids of Ferrero Rocher” — a superb chocolate, we’re told — to welcome Barzun to town. The former Obama 2008 campaign finance chair and mega-bundler left his ambassadorship in Sweden to come back to run fundraising for the 2012 campaign and then assumed his duties in London at the end of August.

“Ambassador and Mrs. Barzun are no longer able to attend on Tuesday, so sadly we are postponing the event,” said Jennifer George of Condé Nast, according to the Evening Standard. “Sorry for any inconvenience. We will let you know when we have a new date.”

An embassy official advised us that Barzun thought attending the Oct. 8 event would not be appropriate in light of the shutdown and asked that it be postponed. Seems embassies, during the shutdown, have been asked to reduce activities that were not considered essential, apparently even when no government funds were involved.

This event, being a private — not official — party, fell into that nonessential category. Perhaps when the shutdown is over? The chocolates surely can keep for a while.

Dear Diary: It’s quiet

Like one of those diet advertisements with dramatic before-and-after pictures, here’s a stark illustration of the impact of the government shutdown: Wednesday’s edition of the Federal Register, essentially the diary of everything the government did the day before, was a mere 12 pages.

The Federal Register, with its seemingly endless parade of regulations, meeting notices and solicitations for comment, typically runs in the hundreds of pages. It’s hardly riveting reading, but if you want to know, for example, about the dog management plan for the Golden Gate National Recreational Area, it’s your go-to.

It’s hard to pin down an exact figure, but a back-of-the envelope calculation using annual data shows that in 2012, the average Register clocked in at more than 300 pages.

The sudden slimdown of the Federal Register is an obvious consequence of the shutdown, yet an interesting (at least to us geeks) measure of its effect. And perhaps some could see this as a silver lining to the shutdown — think of the trees being saved!

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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