Crossing the Aisle (in Politics…and Marriage)

The partisan divide in American is deepening at an alarming rate. Americans are drifting farther and farther from listening to, understanding, and respecting one another. Intriguingly, this is precisely the same kind of drift that can divide marriage partners…a crisis of listening, understanding, and respecting one another.

My friend counselor John Hagen from Grace Harbor Counseling Ministries presents a thoughtful way forward for fractured marriages and a fissuring nation in this below—

Marriage, Partisan Politics, and Crossing the Aisle

Try imagining our national political scene as marriage on a grand scale. Two parties, or people, who come together with different perspectives on and interpretations of reality. One of the goals of this coming together is to form a more perfect union; however, little about the process of two becoming one is easy.Yuval Levin, author of, The Fractured Republic, observes a phenomenon in politics that I see in marriage counseling. Each side in the union picks half the story to tell and describes their half as the whole story. In a simplified example, the Right sees a frightening liberalization happening through immigration, cultural change, and secularization, and suggests a reverting to tradition and forms of national unity to preserve the union. The Left sees a frightening economic liberalization as divisive, creating class polarization and inequality, and suggests reverting to forms of economic solidarity.

Our current political challenge is that neither side accepts the other half. On the Right, the economic argument is totally unacceptable–the notion that there needs to be limits on the markets in order to preserve national cohesion. On the Left, the assertion that our culture is changing too quickly is interpreted as a form of bigotry. By tenaciously holding half the story and pronouncing anathema on the other half, gridlock and institutional failure ensue.

That partisan storyline is often what I see in marriage counseling. If you’ve taken the role of late night comedian in your marriage, and the essence of your response is to reflexively ridicule, mock, and throw stones, then you have to take some responsibility for the degradation of the institution. If you’re on the receiving end of such comments, and you respond by either firing back in kind or by shutting down and circling the wagons, then you also bear responsibility in the failing relationship.

We, and especially Christians, need to be and act the bigger person both in private and in public. If we don’t know how to debate and argue productively in our marriages without launching personal attacks, then we can’t expect that to happen in public discourse. As John Adams, second President of the United States put it, “Public virtue cannot exist in a Nation without private Virtue, and public Virtue is the only Foundation of Republics.”

Where could we start getting better?

Practice the discipline of self-suspicion.

Rather than assuming you possess all the truth in a disagreement, challenge yourself to consider the possibility that the person across the aisle also possesses a piece of the truth you don’t fully understand or appreciate. Value differences of personality, family of origin, life experience, and education. The arrogance of presupposing “I’m right, you’re wrong” does not build a strong union.

Be quick to hear and slow to speak.

A man who delights in airing his own opinions is a fool” (God). Ask lots of questions; resist making statements. Read Dale Carnegie’s, How To Make Friends and Influence People, if needed. For real

Ask God to give you a growing security in your identity in Christ so that your orthodoxy gets distilled to a handful of ideas.

This will give you 1) a generosity of spirit toward others you disagree with, and 2) a less defensive attitude toward compromise and diversity.

Union-making is more art than science, a seemingly rare blend of grace and truth.

The Gospel of Christ shows us how through humble nuance, not high-handed power plays or coy gamesmanship. This is more about people and the greater good than winning or proving one’s self.

Stop yelling at the other side.

Name-calling and dropping verbal bombs may feel cathartic for you, but it alienates the other side and tears at the very fabric that holds the institution together. Memorize Ephesians 4:29-32 and mean it.

If you and/or your spouse want to learn more, call me. Let’s meet and grow together!

John Hagen

This article is reprinted by permission of the author. It originally appeared in the Grace Harbor Counseling Ministries newsletter (well worth signing up for. For more marriage resources, check out John’s free video series on resolving conflict in marriage here.

Grace Church Alexandria offers biblical counseling services. To inquire, read more here.