A House Divided Against Itself
I was raised under the biblical principal of Matthew 12:25, which states in part, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.” Perhaps even people who are areligious or irreligious may appreciate the passage.
Throughout my life, I’ve observed outcomes of division. In my youth, I paid close attention as most of the children I knew came from divorced households.
During my military service, I was sent to Lima, Peru when President Roberto Fujimori and his national security advisor Vladimiro Montesinos fled the country, leaving the nation divided along sociopolitical lines. It was a tense time for the Peruvian people.
Well into adulthood, I witnessed more divorces and observed further nation-state ruin. I’ve thusly concluded that divided houses tend not to stand.
Couples therapy partnership
When undergoing counseling and social work graduate studies, I learned about couples therapy. This method of counseling is aimed at interpersonal conflict resolution as a means of improving romantic relationships.
Though I wasn’t specialized in and didn’t seek certification for working with couples, during a brief time when working towards state licensure, I treated dyads (individuals in an interpersonal relationship). For reasons not addressed herein, I think I made the proper choice to solely treat individuals in my current practice, not couples, families, or groups.
When I did assist couples, many of my clients preferred the term “partner” over “husband,” “girlfriend,” etc. Apparently, the word partner has been socio-politicized to the point whereby it signals affiliation with Democrats, liberals, progressives, the Left, etc.
However, I’ve heard clients express how they like the idea of a partnership, because it indicates trust and mutual respect. For instance, one may refrain from partnering with a person whose interests and goals aren’t jointly aligned. In this way, I think of divorce rates when considering poor partnerships.
Based on reporting of statistics, a person may conclude the United States (U.S.) has the third-highest divorce rate in the world, the rate is on decline due to fewer people choosing to marry, remarrying increases divorce probability, and the average U.S. marriage lasts just under 20 years.
Though the etiology of the quote is said to be uncertain, I’ve heard it stated that there are “lies, damned lies, and statistics,” which is a phrase addressing the use of stats to bolster weak arguments. Statistics aside, I’m uncertain as to what will occur regarding the future of partnerships or marriages in the U.S.
From my limited experience when working with partners in couples therapy, what remains clear is that people who lack trust and respect for one another tend not to remain together. Partnerships may quickly or eventually devolve into divided homes.
Couples therapy resources
When working with couples in the past, I drew upon the wisdom of various resources. These invaluable assets informed my practice of attempting to help dyads achieve a higher level of functioning and improved quality of life.
For instance, I appreciated how one therapist opined, “Committed relationships are a contract of mutual trust, respect, nurturance, and protection,” and maintained that when these elements are breeched, the resulting betrayal is considered “the secret relationship killer.”
As well, I valued guidance from a free resource that stated:
Safety and security are the foundations of a healthy relationship. Regardless of how well one can communicate and problem solve, people rarely utilize those skills without the security of knowing it is safe to take risks, be vulnerable and express oneself. Living in fear of rejection, humiliation, abandonment or physical harm makes it impossible to experience a healthy relationship.
I assisted couples with determining whether a problem was solvable or perpetual, inviting them to “express a ‘we against others’ attitude.” After all, I was aware that “contempt, not cheating” was said to be the “kiss of death” in relationships.
Per one resource:
Contempt takes different forms, including use of sarcasm or cynicism, mocking or belittling one’s partner, engaging in aggressive name calling, negatively exaggerating interactions and situations between partners, sneering or making faces at one’s partner, aiming negative gestures at one’s partner, and antagonistic humor aimed at one’s partner. A commonly expressed statement of contempt is, “I could not care less” about one’s partner.
Quite often, clients would attend session and lay out lengthy lists of perceived wrongs committed by their partners. I found that in the beginning stages of romantic relationships people sought out similarities, though in relational decline they meticulously searched for dissimilarities.
Lacking forgiveness and maintaining rigid conditions for how a relationship should, must, or ought to function; therapy was usually a last-ditch effort to salvage a failing bond. In reality, many couples who attended session with me were simply checking a box to give the appearance of trying to make things work.
Who could survive a collection of accumulated wrongdoing by a partner who is unwilling to forgive? As one source states:
Forgiveness is the decision or choice to give up the right for vengeance, retribution, and negative thoughts toward an offender in order to be free from anger and resentment. This process promotes healing and restoration of inner peace, and it can allow reconciliation to take place in the relationship.
Whether addressing betrayal, safety when taking risks in a relationship, fostering the concept of “we-ness,” addressing the existence of contempt, or encouraging dyads to practice forgiveness, my use of couples therapy resources significantly enriched my work with clients.
A U.S. house divided
Many people have lots to say when it comes to speculating about the future of the U.S. Personally, my predictions are unreliable. If I foresee sunshine this afternoon, taking an umbrella with you may be a wise move.
Nonetheless, I don’t off-handedly dismiss pattern recognition. Past experience of working with couples serves as a cautionary signal for future potential regarding U.S. citizen conflict.
I don’t think it’s a particularly controversial statement to declare that our nation is largely divided along racial, socioeconomic, cultural, and sociopolitical lines. I’m not referencing mere disagreement, as I’m alluding to the contemptuous nature of societal relations at present.
Keeping in mind my biblical upbringing, I wonder if our nation divided against itself will be brought to desolation within my lifetime. I think it’s reasonable to ponder whether or not our house divided against itself will stand if we proceed at the current rate of uncivil separation.
It’s one thing to disagree about what version of history is taught in schools or if it’s a worthwhile cause to send personnel to the moon. However, our citizenry is increasingly split in relation to fundamental enumerated rights and whether it’s legal or illegal to enshrine into law identity-based legislation.
When working with couples facing as many dissimilarities as Republicans, Democrats, and everyone in between or on the margins of these silly political parties, I used to think to myself in sessions, “Is it a matter of when, not if, these two agree to divorce?”
One of the most important lessons learned at the religious university I attended for my counseling graduate degree was that some couples participate in therapy for an amicable split, not to remain together. This was difficult instruction for some students.
Therapists were discouraged from imposing our own values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors onto clients. Even if one’s religious principles were in opposition to divorce, the client’s needs came first.
Considering this helpful understanding, I listen to the declaration of some people calling for a “national divorce,” and though I don’t advocate the proposal I can comprehend how individuals may arrive to this conclusion. How would I address this matter in a session?
The kids aren’t alright
Suppose John and Jane Doe seek couples therapy, as a divorce has been proposed prior to attending session. They have a son named Jack and a daughter named Jenny. John represents the U.S. right-wing and Jane the left-wing. Jack and Jenny represent nonpartisan citizens.
John expresses that he favors logic and reason while Jane reports valuing emotion and intuition. The dyad agrees that neither of their communication styles which favor their moral and ethical framework is effective at persuading one another past each member’s bias.
John thinks frivolous spending, allowing uninvited guests into the home, and challenges to his decision to bear arms or speak his mind freely are stuck points within the relationship. Unable to convince his partner to compromise on these matters, John proposes a divorce.
Jane concludes that charitable donations of the dyad’s income to various causes, giving shelter to those in need, refusing to allow weaponry in the home, and speech she considers unproductive and hateful are immovable matters worth an unrelenting stance. Still, she disputes that the marriage is unsalvageable.
Meanwhile, Jack and Jenny have no control and very little influence over the behavior of their parents. John and Jane acknowledge my referral to family therapy though both partners express wanting to use couples therapy as a deciding factor for whether or not to continue their 20-year union.
Regardless of what psychotherapeutic techniques I use, John remains willfully resistant to any means of resolution. “I’m only here so that we can end this marriage peacefully,” he says.
Jane counters, “I think we need to try for the kids, because Jack still has another two years of high school and Jenny is only seven-years-old. They need both parents in order to have as many chances as possible to achieve success before they eventually go off on their own.”
What may be done when treating this couple, given that one partner is clearly resolved not to carry on? I suppose marriage and family therapists, social workers, counselors, and psychologists of varying varieties could propose many different options that may or may not be useful.
The dyad tells me they are unwilling to try separation. John is determined to leave Jane in short order, as he says, “There’s really nothing left to discuss, because I refuse to compromise any further. In fact, I withdraw any ground previously ceded.”
In this vignette, as cliché as it may sound, it’s the children who will likely suffer most. The kids aren’t alright.
Still, what is the alternative—have the children grow up in a home in which betrayal, contempt, and a lack of forgiveness is ever-present? At what point will the parental relationship devolve into passive or overt aggression from one partner to another?
Truly, I think I made a wise decision no longer to treat couples in my current practice. If working with an individual who is willfully stuck, help-rejecting, or who is actively self-sabotaging success, I call out what I see with hope that the client will modify behavior that better serves one’s interests or goals.
I could do the same with a partner of a dyad. Still, the fallout from an individual who is intentionally self-destructive is somewhat different from a couple or familial member who exhibits similar behavior.
Dear readers if you thought I’d have some simplistic social media-esque solution concerning this matter, think again. I see no easy fix for Jack and Jenny’s parents. However, if you have a workable solution to the state of affairs in which our citizenry finds ourselves, I’m all ears.
Though a house divided against itself my not stand, there may be shelter elsewhere if disaster isn’t averted. Pragmatically, one doesn’t need to wait until full-on crisis is at hand in order to seek help.
This was perhaps the single most frustrating matter when I worked with clients. Dyads would often wait until a metaphorical water leak all but eroded the foundation and the home was sinking into a hole before reaching out for couples therapy.
If you observe signs of distress in your romantic relationship, why wait for calamity in order to address the matter? Likewise, what once was a slow drip has now transitioned into a steady deluge that may be worth addressing within our nation.
I’m not qualified to resolve the matter, so I’ll leave that up to the powers that be—some of whom control the very flow of water that placed us in this predicament to begin with. For the Jack and Jenny’s in Texas—those of adult age—I’m here for you.
If you’re looking for a provider who doesn’t pretend to have all the answers though who is nonetheless prepared to assist individuals with a vast array of issues, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
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