Pointing Fingers

Typically, dysfunctional couples come into marital therapy in finger-pointing mode. Rather than addressing the many problems they share, they are more focused on blaming the other for their problems. Sound familiarly like a typical Congressional day? I have a fantasy of having Democrats and Republicans in my office—a fantasy that is easy to visualize.

Suzy Republican (you can change the sex) begins by glaring at Tom Democrat and saying, “You are putting us in a huge financial hole by all this reckless spending! Our grandchildren won’t be able to put food on the table with the debt they’ll inherit!” “Me?” asks Tom. “When I was in charge, we had a surplus, a good economy and then you took control and you cut our income by giving tax breaks to the rich!” Suzy glares back and attacks how Tom bailed out worthless banks and gave homeowners license to rape the mortgage system.

I looked at both of them and agreed there was a problem of debt and asked each how they can address the problem. “It’s her fault!” says Tom. “Mine?” asks Suzy. “How can you say that when you gave away billions to AIG and Citicorp?” Suzy further attacks by calling Tom a socialistic pig for getting them involved with Chrysler and GM. Tom calls Suzy nuts and says he saved the American auto industry and will get every penny back, with interest. I point out that the bickering and finger pointing helps neither their debt problem nor the auto industry. They think I don’t understand how the other screws everything up.

They both agree that they want to keep America healthy, but Tom accuses Suzy of letting the insurance companies milk the public and deny healthcare to those who most need it. “Why are we paying double the amount per capita as any developed country and not living longer?” he asks. Suzy, infuriated, accuses Tom of wanting “Death Panels” to limit the free choice of the people. “Government is the problem!” yells Suzy. “Give me one area where Government improved things!” “Are you blind?!” Tom yells back. “Yellowstone and the National Parks would be raped if the government didn’t take over! You let the banks run crazy and suck people into debt that couldn’t be repaid because you were against regulation!” I point out that overwhelmingly problems don’t have solutions—just alternatives with costs and benefits—and if they worked together a more positive outcome could develop. After all, it seems they share goals. But Tom and Suzy still believe I don’t understand that the other is the problem.

Tom changes the subject and attacks Suzy for being a troublemaker. “She just can’t get along with anyone. She’s thinks everyone is out to get her and that they have weapons of mass destruction!” Suzy glares at Tom, calls him a fool and points out that the world is hostile. Tom snorts and tells Suzy that given the international threat of terrorism, we need alliances to combat it from where it developed, and that her belligerent approach prevents alliances. “Tom, you moron! You think you can trust those people! All they want is to take your money and tell you want you want to hear. Without force they’ll just train more terrorists. ”

Suzy goes on to call Tom weak. Tom, infuriated, points out that the Democrats handled WWII, Korea, the Cuban missile crises with resolve and strength. Suzy points out that Tom could only do this because of Republican support. They both looked at me and admitted that under crises, they often do work well together. During crises, they admitted, their differences diminish and they become effective. I ask them if they can carry that same sense of purpose when dealing with other intense problems. They look at me and both claim that the other is incapable of handling problems. Session over. I know I have a lot of work to do, and am not optimistic that Suzy and Tom can overcome the destructive “Blame Game” they play, even though the consequences of this game can be disastrous.

Illustration by Tom LaMothe