To heal your troubled marriage, don’t hire a lawyer. If healing is your goal, you will be better served by seeing a therapist.

Lawyers fight for their clients. They are not there to heal the relationship. They are called on during divorce proceedings which tend to be win/lose affairs. In my experience, in fighting for one spouse or the other, the former partners get polarized even further.

You see my analogy?

This presidential campaign, to me, has felt like a divorce. It feels like Democrats filed for divorce 10 minutes after Mr. Trump and the country said “I do” during the inauguration. We did not see any relationship therapists speaking at the impeachment trial.

Both teams, as is always the case in campaigns, are adversarial. By its very nature, someone has to win and someone has to lose. Even if the competition is respectful and opponents play by the rules, one team pours champagne over each other in the locker room and the other licks their wounds and begin plotting how to get even next time.

One of our societal mistakes, it seems to me, has been to respond to our troubled relationship by hiring lawyers instead of therapists. That is, to view it as a “culture war” instead of a breach of empathy, a term a psychologist friend of mine likes to use.

I think we all can agree that our national union is in trouble and that the last four years have had the effect of pouring gasoline instead of water on our burning home.

If Biden wins, how are we liberals (80 percent in this area who voted for Hillary) going to respond? Are we going to dance in the endzone to shame the other team? Are we going to continue on the adversarial, win/lose path we’ve been on or are we going to say, “This is not working. Let’s move away a bit from the combative style of lawyers and approach the next four years as marriage therapy.”

“But there are urgent things that need to get done,” protest some of my friends.

“More important than bringing the union closer together and building trust?” I wonder.

Maybe healing begins with simple things like saying “we will work for” instead of “we will fight for.” I know it feels like we’re in a battle, but we have the power to frame it otherwise.

Those of you who have been in marriage counseling know how it works. First, we had to let go of the position that I’m right and you’re an idiot. Then we had to listen to the other person in the relationship with the intention of trying to understand their point of view. Not to agree with it, necessarily, but at least to try to understand and believe that we can respect people who view “reality” differently.

Donald Trump came into this “marriage” not wanting to make it work, and almost from the get-go those on the left side of the aisle have filed grounds for a divorce. That’s not a good scenario for healing a polarized union.

If the polls are more accurate than they were four years ago, come Jan. 20, our nation will have another chance to make the relationship work. 

Officer Mike Keating, now retired, told me that every once in a while he will run into people he had arrested and put in jail, and sometimes they will actually smile and shake his hand. And when he asks them why, they reply, “Because even when you were arresting me, you treated me with respect.”

Pres. Lincoln’s overarching goal was not to win the war but to save the union. At some point that required both the blues and the grays to stop seeing the “other” as enemy and start relating to them as potential allies.

I realize we don’t have a sterling record in that regard, but it is possible. We are close allies with Germany 55 years after the end of WWII partly because in the Marshall Plan we helped Western Germany rebuild instead of punishing them, as was the case after WWI.

It’s called restorative justice, a way of leaning into the pain of a troubled relational history with the goal of healing the relationship instead of defeating an enemy. Nelson Mandela and Bishop Tutu put that vision into practice in South Africa.

The All in the Family character Archie Bunker once said, “What’s wrong with revenge? It’s a perfect way of getting even!”

Come Jan. 20, we have a spiritual choice to make — follow Archie Bunker’s way of responding to injustice or that of Mandela, Tutu and Lincoln.

My wife just finished a novel titled, A Nun in the Closet, in which a character named Sister John has an unpleasant experience with a very rude, disrespectful man. “A most extraordinary man,” said Sister John, as he was going out the door. “Pure bully — one of the most unpleasant I believe I’ve ever met — and what I resent very much is that I shall have to pray for him.”

My hope and prayer is that we choose to be therapists as well as lawyers, holding up the goal of having malice toward none and charity toward all. Truth and reconciliation, Bishop Tutu taught us, must be inseparable for a just peace to evolve. 

It’s difficult to summon the spiritual will to do that after feeling like an enemy has victimized you, but I’m afraid that is what it’s going to take to, as my Jewish friends say, Tikkun Olam. 

Repair the world.

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Tom Holmes

Tom's been writing about religion – broadly defined – for years in the Journal. Tom's experience as a retired minister and his curiosity about matters of faith will make for an always insightful exploration...