It isn't pretty ...
In a healthy romantic relationship, each partner agrees to operate collaboratively, cooperatively, sensitively, fairly, and justly.
I call that secure functioning.
Secure-functioning partners put their relationship before and above any self-interests that could jeopardize the safety and security of their union.
Under the best of circumstances, I believe politicians should also have a secure-functioning relationship — with their constituents.
Unlike a couple’s relationship, the relationship between politicians and the public is usually asymmetrical, often more closely resembling that of a parent and child than that of adult partners. Such asymmetry does not lend itself to openness and trust.
This election is notable for the public’s high degree of concern over honesty and transparency.
According to a 2015 Pew Research poll, the public’s trust in government continues to run at an all-time low. The public’s trust in mass media is also at an all-time low, according to a 2016 Gallup poll.
So what does this say about secure functioning and the presidential race? Let’s consider that by taking a closer look at the candidates.
Recently, I wrote about the secure functioning of Barack and Michelle Obama. They stand out to me as exemplary in terms of secure-functioning as a couple, based on their ability to respect and stand by each other, and to maintain novelty and freshness in their relationship.
Let’s look at the two current candidates.
One would be hard pressed to call Donald Trump’s marriage to Melania secure-functioning, especially in light of her reaction to the leaked Access Hollywood video.
In fact, much has been written about the possibility that he suffers from narcissistic personality disorder. I’m not here to diagnose the Donald, so let's just consider some of his specific behaviors.
- There are his vulgar comments about attempts to have sex with a married woman in 2005 (notably, while his wife was pregnant).
- His assertion that it would be okay for Howard Stern to sexually objectify his daughter by calling her a "piece of a**."
- His banter about the fact that "if Ivanka weren't [his] daughter," he would date her.
- His history of adultery while married to his first wife.
- The accusations against him of sexual harassment in the workplace.
- The list goes on ...
The point is, each one of these behaviors is considered a deal breaker when it comes to a secure functioning relationship.
Anyone with a pattern of misogynistic behavior simply cannot offer security to a partner — any self-reports about being “happily married” notwithstanding.
Not only did he cheat on her, but he did so in the most public way possible. Nothing secure functioning about that.
But here is the key: insecure functioning can be reversed.
If that weren't possible, there would be no use for couple therapists.
In the Clinton’s case, this is exactly what we see. They stuck it out, they worked on their relationship, and they transformed.
They have been married for more than 40 years, and, by all evidence, have created a respectful, loving, supportive relationship that could be secure functioning. Since I don’t know them personally I cannot attest to that.
We don’t know, of course, if or how the secure-functioning personal relationship (or lack thereof) of a candidate affects his or her relationship with the public.
Both Trump and Clinton have low favorability ratings.
There could be many reasons for this, including, for Clinton, the effects of 30 years of negative attacks by her opponents.
One quality that is equally important within secure-functioning relationships and within the public arena is honesty. Based on a truthfulness scale by Politifact, as of 2015, Clinton had a dishonesty score of 28%, while Trump’s dishonesty score was at 76%.
This tells us something about what we can expect over the next four years, depending on which candidate wins in November.
Bottom line, I believe our character as a nation is reflected in the leaders we elect.
I am also an advocate for secure-functioning as the healthiest stance for our personal and public relationships.
Therefore, I urge you to take a moment to consider how you can best cast a vote for secure functioning adult in this election.
Dr. Stan Tatkin is a couple therapist known for his pioneering work in helping partners form happy, secure, and long-lasting relationships. His method — called PACT (Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy®) — draws on principles of neuroscience and teaches partners to become what he terms “secure functioning.” Join the conversation about secure-functioning relationships via the PACT Institute's Facebook page. You can also follow Dr. Tatkin's Twitter account and Facebook page.