Love Lessons From The Political Season


By Dr. Bonnie Ray Kennan, MFT


I would love to be a fly on the wall when Democratic strategist James Carville, and his wife, Mary Matalin (Republican commentator) end their day. No, I am not talking about their sex life. I’m curious about their fighting style. They must have figured out how to “fight” in a very different way at home than they do at work. Otherwise, contempt would most likely have destroyed their marriage (Gottman).


Red state/ Blue state battles are ubiquitous these days. Try turning on your television, radio, or any I-device. Go to Church, Synagogue, Starbucks, or the movies. Venture out to the office, a family dinner, or read your Facebook page. Just notice how long it takes to find someone who is willing to tell you, with absolute certainty, why their presidential candidate is the true and living candidate who will provide all the answers for a broken country.


It is appalling to me that the fighting style of the culture at large is so mean-spirited and nasty. And equally appalling that we reward our political candidates for their participation in the bloodier aspects of the game–negative campaigning  works.


Political candidates are essentially saying to the American people: “Have a relationship with me and I will make your life better.” I think we can tell a lot about them by the way they fight, and that we can learn how not to fight as well as how to fight more effectively by watching them. Maybe it is too late to have a civilized political exchange. But perhaps we can extract some communication lessons from the macro level for people to use on a micro level.


Notice what you feel toward a candidate or his/her surrogate when they make a sarcastic remark. That is a big deal-killer. Sarcasm is a bad communication strategy in any arena. It is indirect, smug, One-up, and mean. It is far more effective to say it clear, clean, and directly.


Or when a candidate “Catastrophizes,” in other words uses wild hyperbole to make a point about what will happen if….. This is a very immoderate and hysterical way to communicate. Instead, why not lay out a clean, straight-forward case for your perspective, then make an earnest request for what you want?


How about when one’s presentation is so grandiose and overstated and filled with downright lies? This tactic destroys trust and credibility, even if it gets attention.


I suspect the political is what it is and not likely to change. If anything, it is getting worse. However, this hot political season can serve as a how-not-to-do communication guide for the vast majority of us who are not running for anything. In short, keep it clean, direct, and respectful. And when you lose your way and go below the belt, remember that says much more about you than it says about your spouse.