Guest Blog: Excerpted from Splitting America: How Similar Are High-Conflict Divorce and High-Conflict Politics?

September 10, 2012


By Bill Eddy and Don Saposnek

On the first floor of the Capitol, there is a private dining room for senators, the “inner sanctum,” where Republicans and Democrats used to have lunch (at separate tables, but in the same room). In the seventies, old bulls such as James Eastland, Hubert Humphrey, and Jacob Javits held court there; later, Daniel Patrick Moynihan did. “You learned, and also you found out what was going on,” Dodd said, adding, “It’s awfully difficult to say crappy things about someone that you just had lunch with.”

These days, the inner sanctum is nearly always empty. Senators eat lunch in their respective caucus rooms with members of their party, or else “downtown,” which means asking donors for money over steak and potatoes at the Monocle or Charlie Palmer. The tradition of the “caucus lunch” was instituted by Republicans in the fifties, when they lost their majority; Democrats, after losing theirs in 1980, followed suit. Caucus lunches work members on both sides into a state of pep-rally fervor.

During one recent Republican lunch, Jim Bunning referred to Harry Reid as an idiot. “At least he had the courtesy to do it behind closed doors,” Alexander joked, adding, “We spend most of our time in team meetings deciding what we’re going to do to each other.”

In 2007, Alexander and Lieberman started a series of bipartisan Tuesday breakfasts. “They kind of dwindled off during the health-care debate,” Alexander said. Udall has tried to revive the Wednesday inner-sanctum lunch. For the first few months, only Democrats attended. Then, one Wednesday in May, Susan Collins, the Maine Republican, showed up, joking nervously about being a turncoat; to protect her reputation, her presence was kept secret.

These efforts at resurrecting dead customs are as self-conscious and, probably, as doomed as the get-togethers of lovers who try to stay friends after a breakup. Ira Shapiro, a Washington lawyer and a former aide to Senator Gaylord Nelson, of Wisconsin, put it this way: “Why would they want to have lunch together when they hate each other?” (Packer, 2010).

Who’s in charge here when children, and Senators, feel that they have to keep secrets to protect themselves from their high-conflict families? And, as the boy (in a previous section about high-conflict divorce) above said: “You would never know for sure who is closer to the truth than the other.” Doesn’t this fit many of today’s politicians?

About Bill Eddy
William A. (“Bill”) Eddy, L.C.S.W., J.D. is a family law attorney, therapist and mediator, with over thirty years’ experience working with children and families.  He is the Senior Family Mediator at the National Conflict Resolution Center in San Diego, California.  He is also the President of the High Conflict Institute, which provides speakers, trainers and consultants on the subject of managing high-conflict people in legal disputes, workplace disputes, healthcare and education.  He has taught Negotiation and Mediation at the University of San Diego School of Law and he teaches Psychology of Conflict at the Strauss Institute for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine University School of Law.  He is the author of several books, including:

Splitting: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder

BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People, Their Personal Attacks, Hostile Email and Social Media Meltdowns

It’s All Your Fault! 12 Tips for Managing People Who Blame Others for Everything

For more information about Bill Eddy, please visit: www.HighConflictInstitute.com.

About Don Saposnek
Donald T. Saposnek, Ph.D. is a clinical-child psychologist, child custody mediator and family therapist in private practice for over 40 years, and is a national and international trainer of mediation and child development.  For the past 35 years, he has been teaching on the psychology faculty at the University of California at Santa Cruz, and is Adjunct Professor at Pepperdine University School of Law’s Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution.  He is the author of the classic book, Mediating Child Custody Disputes and has published extensively in the professional literature on child custody and child psychology.  He serves on the editorial boards of the Family Court Review and Conflict Resolution Quarterly journals and is the editor of the international Academy of Professional Family Mediators’ The Professional Family Mediator.  As director of Family Mediation Service of Santa Cruz, he managed the family court services for 17 years and has mediated nearly 5,000 child custody disputes in both the public and private sectors since 1977. For more information about Don Saposnek, please visit: www.mediate.com/dsaposnek

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