12/02/2013 03:10 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

The Trickling Down of Washington Discord: Family Life Deeply Affected

The majority of Americans are disgusted and discouraged by dangerous stalemates throughout Washington power institutions, within and with each other. Much has been written about grave family fear and anxiety caused by the lack of adequate social programs and safety nets, including health care provisions. Yet few have examined how ruthless determination to maintain power, regardless of cost to the common good, is impacting on marital and family relationships.

If you doubt that these patterns in D.C. leadership trickle down to family life, please read on.

The types of examples that will follow were not unfamiliar five or six years ago; however, in the last few years they have grown more common and more chilling, impacting personally and dangerously.

First some background: Simply stated marital and family difficulties can be understood in three main categories:

1. Communication : Families which succeed take the time to hear and do their best to understand each other, and in doing so learn the importance of self respect, as well as mutual respect.
2. Control: When one partner insists on domination of the other, he or she must learn the dangers of this kind of insistence and expectation.
3. Intimacy: In troubled families, when one signals the need for closeness of any kind, the partner who fears it puts up myriad obstacles.

As our government has become more and more insistent that compromise is weakness, the necessary give and take that is necessary in creating and maintaining trust in marital and family living has lessened. In this way control, intimacy and communication difficulties have either been intensified or newly created. Consider these actual examples from clients recently seen:

Fran, a successful interior designer with a home office, allowing her to be close to her three young children, is distraught as she explains: "My husband installed a home music system, but unknown to either of us, it effected my office phone line. When I got a call and answered it, I was immediately disconnected. It took me a while to realize what had happened, but since my husband hooked up the sound system, I asked him to look at what he had done, which I did not understand. Then together we could communicate with the phone company and solve the problem. I asked this a couple of times on different days as the problem persisted, but he was tired. Then finally, waiting another day, I asked again. His reaction was to curse at me, screaming that he paid most of the bills, was far too busy, and to leave him the hell alone." Fran continued, "We used to be a team. The last years have brought great change. I see him watching the news, smiling and nodding at those who bully others."

Here's another scenario described a week ago. Ted and Ann went to pick up the new car they had chosen together. Ted arranged the time, not consulting with his wife. Ann is an attorney who had clients appointments two hours later than the scheduled visit. When the car was not ready, followed by further delays, Ted insisted that they continue to wait, even though he knew that his wife had appointments. When Ann said she had to leave the car dealership, Ted refused to schedule another appointment and leave with her, insisting instead that she reach her clients and reschedule. Anne could not reason with her husband, borrowed a car, and left the dealership. In her words, "This total lack of consideration and bullying never would have happened a couple of years ago."

The couple sat in my office describing a situation that left them both incredulous and terrified. Their 17-year-old daughter had gotten into an argument with her 15-year-old brother, who refused her demand to use the car they shared, as he had promised to take a friend to an appointment. When her father entered the room to see what the screaming was all about, he pulled his daughter away from her brother so that she could not continue slapping him. The dad explained what happened next: "My daughter said that if I continued to hold on to her, she would call the authorities, say I hit her, and have me jailed." "Who has our daughter become?" asked his wife. "Where has she learned such impatience and disrespect?"

This client continued wisely, "Watching our national leadership is encouraging all of us to think only of ourselves and demand to have things the way we want them, or else! The only important priority demonstrated today is the expectation of power over others."