As a therapist that specializes in sexuality and relationships, about half of my clients are couples. Sure, many of them have some sort of sexuality-related difficulty, but fundamentally more often than not, most of my clients have deep-seated communication problems that make further progress impossible. Invariably, these issues in communication narrow the range of possible discussion. Since these couples don’t have the tools to appropriately manage conflict, or they are too defensive or reactive about certain subjects, the list of prohibited conversation topics increases while the possibilities decrease.
Joe Overton, a public intellectual writing for the Mackinac Center of Public Policy, created a term known as the “Overton window” to describe the range of socially accepted public discussion. Overton theorized that politicians can only voice opinions within a narrow band inside the left to right political spectrum. Any politician who voiced an idea outside this range of acceptable opinions would see their career come to an abrupt end and experience ostracization. I often think of this socio-political phenomena as an appropriate metaphor for the difficulties my clients often experience. When I see troubled couples in my office, the Overton window is typically so small that the range of conversation has become limited to the most basic superficialities. Instead of being able to negotiate common values, sexual desires, and fundamental concerns, they may only be left with rehashing plot lines from their favorite TV show. Just as political scholars might argue that a narrow Overton window is symptomatic of a troubled, dysfunctional society, so too, based on my clinical experience, a tiny Overton window is one of […]