I lay on my couch too listless to pick up the book I want to read or even to pick up the remote to watch a new murder docuseries I had saved. Maybe I will turn on music – but my phone is on the dining room table. I remember I need to take the garbage to the curb – eh, it can wait another week. I am numb. I am scared, worried, and uncertain about my future. I feel this now thinking about the country I love. I felt this in 2011 when I was in the midst of my divorce.
It feels like the country is getting divorced. No longer are we reconciling our differences. No longer are we looking for our delightful similarities. No longer are we invested, kind, or co-existing in peace. We have become apathetic to each other’s views and only find fleeting strength when we engage in disagreements and get in line to vote.
We have become indifferent. We are shutting down. We take our sadness behind closed doors. We rail against the other side with our new version of trusted friends – our Facebook groups and feeds. We seek out and find all evidence that we are right and they are wrong
Dr. John Gottman uses the principle of Negative Sentiment Override (NSO). Negative sentiment override happens when over time arguing and conflict builds up and one person can no longer give the other the benefit of the doubt. Every interaction under NSO is viewed through a negative lens. We assume hurtful, mean, and cruel intentions behind every interaction. It seemingly takes 100 consistent positive interactions to defeat just one negative. I see NSO with my clients and I know immediately the marriage has no hope of recovery
Our citizenry is facing NSO over politics and world views – just as divorcing spouses suffer from it over parenting decisions and financial philosophies. Our nation is in collective need of intense therapy and support. We need to change, because unlike spouses, we cannot divorce. We have a duty and an obligation to each other to keep our country strong, healthy, and united.
It is incumbent upon us to start the hard work of repairing our relationship. We do not need to walk up the aisle with “the other side” but we do need to reach across it. We need to shift our focus from fear and judgment and endeavor to see and hear those with opposite views. We need to search until we find common ground – no matter how seemingly insignificant. We need to start creating our 100 positive interactions.
I have seen the possibility of healing come to life with as many clients as I have seen succumb to NSO. It shows up post-divorce when parents need to continue to co-parent, when a former in-law takes ill and bygones must truly be forgotten, and when the heart has healed and the bitter is released into forgiveness.
If we want to remain the United States, we have no viable option but to start defeating our collective NSO. We need to extend kindness, replace judgment with curiosity about our differences, and focus with all the grit we have on the greatest unifier we have – the love of our country.