(Or How to Create a Sustainable Marriage)
Arguments erupted over the Thanksgiving dinner table all across America this past week. This was a scene from one friends holiday: Grandpa carved the turkey dinner, waving the knife in the air and fighting off the vitriol about his vote for Trump. Aunt Maureen blasted him and demanded a recount in Wisconsin. All of the cousins swore and shouted; they still support Bernie. Everyone else, including the neighbors, were Hillary supporters, and spent dessert sitting quietly at the children’s table, explaining to them how she won the popular vote.
The recent conflictual Presidential election has divided our country and been a challenge to our most fundamental values. Conflict over freedom, personal rights, respect for differences; these moral distinctions are all at stake with the installation of this new cabinet.
This new reality has created divisiveness between men and women, blacks and whites, Hispanics and Muslims; created arguments on Twitter, ended Facebook friendships, and driven people into the streets to protest. And it has divided our families.
The breakdown of a partnership happens when there is a lack of empathy for the other side.
For half of all married couples in America, the inability to validate feelings can lead to more than a disagreement about voting, it often leads to divorce. The result can be a division of belongings, splitting up of children, and feelings of failure.
And yet divorce is not an option for our country. Even though we feel separated in America, Democrats cannot divorce Republicans. We cannot break up with Donald Trump. Liberals cannot pack up and move out of a conservative political agenda; there is no place to go. We will all have to figure out a way to get along.
There is an option. A “sustainable partnership” based on the capacity to enhance each other’s wellbeing. A sustainable marriage is based on empathy and on honesty. A sustainable relationship is a partnership where each partner values one thing more than any other — integrity.
In this country we are suffering from a crisis of integrity. Integrity means keeping our promises to ourselves and to others.
Right now we are living in a time of relationship failure. It is a time of chaos and for many, confusion. We don’t know how to relate. We don’t know how to connect, to empathize, to validate one another’s experience. And no wonder. How many of us grew up with role models of relationship success? Most of us, if we are adults, have lived through someone’s divorce, either our parents or someone close to us. We have seen couples cheat, lie, or trade each other in for a new model.
That one-time vow made at the altar as an inoculation against infidelity or divorce? It doesn’t work. And not because we are bad people, but because monogamy is a promise, it can be broken, it can expire, it can be renewed.
And over half of us are breaking our promises, to ourselves; to our partners. So the question is, how do we keep our promises?
It takes integrity to keep a promise, to maintain a commitment over a long stretch of time. And maybe marriage to one person for a lifetime is no longer a sustainable model. We elect a new President every four years. We re-up, we re-commit. What would happen if we checked in and re-evaluated, renewed, started over- our marriages, our monogamy agreements? Again and again?
In order to keep the integrity of an agreement, we need to commit not just once, but often. We need to continue to re-new our monogamy to the same person.
What would happen if you and your partner ran for for re-election and campaigned for a new term for the role of spouse?
The old standard of marriage is morphing into something new. Couples are developing a new code of integrity — a new type of honesty and commitment — a new way to define monogamy, one with a unique shared definition of integrity, of transparency, one that is evolving even as it departs and disrupts the traditional stereotype of marriage we have known for over 200 years.
The ‘new’ monogamy is a departure from traditional fidelity. Because we want to keep our promises. We want to feel good about ourselves and our commitments. We want to be honest.
The future of sustainable relationships means more discussions. More honesty. It means creating flexible monogamy agreements that contribute positively to your partner’s growth, thinking less of your own, and moving into empathetic connection.
Only through learning to have sustainable and authentic relationships at home can we create positive relationships with and in our country.
Empathy starts at home. If we can create these relationships in our own marriages and at our dinner table, maybe we can begin to reach across the aisle, in the Senate, in Congress, on the Supreme Court.
If not, there’s always left over pie.