A funny thing happened when I was road-testing the message of my new book, Reclaiming Patriotism, on a group of elected officials in a Washington, D.C. suburb. I suggested that, to counter the polarization that paralyzes the government and tears apart society, we need to apply to our political discussions the model successful couples use to fight.

Studies show, I told the group, that married couples fight about as often as those that break up — but those that stay together fight better. They follow implicit rules of engagement that enable couples to seek changes in their division of labor and budgets while maintaining the union. And these couples benefit from taking into account that they also have some common goods, say, their children.

To ensure that everybody noted that I was merely using the couples as an analogue, I hastened to add the climate as an example of a common good for the nation.

I had the strong impression that they were thinking more about their spouses or partners than what I wanted them to focus on — how the various groups that make up the nation must learn to argue with each other while maintaining unity.

[…]