Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406 – firstname.lastname@example.org
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The White House spokesperson this week presented what she called “alternative facts” about the crowd size at Donald Trump’s inauguration. That’s an interesting expression and one which may well enter the dictionary of euphemisms in the next edition.
In my work with couples, I am often presented with what might be called alternative facts. “We had a big argument on Tuesday” : ”No, it was Wednesday” or “We never have sex any more” : ”Yes we do, we had sex in October”
There can be battles in the counselling room to establish who is the more reliable witness. Who is telling the truth and who is presenting “alternative facts”? The Trump administration seems to be embroiled in a power struggle with the press, and so too I find that my clients can be battling with each other to establish who is the more truthful, the more reliable, the more right.
I suppose they are trying to convince me, hoping I will pass judgment. Or maybe they aim to convince their partner, hoping to subjugate them. But perhaps mostly they are trying to convince themselves, to justify their feelings and opinions – a defensive reaction which maybe is what we’re seeing from the Trump camp too.
While there are interesting parallels to be drawn, there are of course differences too. The crown size at Trump’s inauguration is (approximately) measurable by looking at recordings, but not all statements can be proven or disproven in such a clear-cut way. Conversations are not recorded, sex acts are not diarised, and so what clients present to me as facts are often opinions or even codified feelings, for example:-
- “We had a big argument on Tuesday” could mean “I am still feeling really upset by the argument we had this week and I’d like to talk about it”
- “No, it was Wednesday” equals “I am scared that things will blow up again, let’s not talk about it”
The battles to establish the truth, the power struggles I witness are never constructive. If we establish that an argument happened on Wednesday rather than Tuesday, what difference does it make? Does it establish who is the better person? Does it mean that you are always right and your partner always wrong? Does it mean that your partner is never again entitled to disagree with you?
Battles can end in stalemate – a balance, an equilibrium of sorts – but such endings are unstable, resentments simmer, war is liable to break out again without warning. It’s far better to negotiate a proper peace settlement where both parties can get what they need and work together in co-operation, in partnership in the future.
I very much doubt that Trump is capable of doing that, and his battles for power will continue. I rather hope that clients I see are capable of more.