Football and the National Anthem: Oh, Say Can You Hear?

This weekend I watched football teams either “take a knee” or lock arms in solidarity during the national anthem. Putting aside the debate that is raging about the right to protest, the symbolism of the flag, how best to show our patriotism, or how to voice our need for change, I was struck by another phenomenon: We get louder when we feel we are not being heard.

As a marriage and family therapist I see couples who are yelling, arguing or walking away from their disagreements. Whatever individual methods are used, what I notice is that one partner and often both are feeling they are not being heard. In an attempt to get heard, each gets louder and more dramatic. In the shouting no one is able to hear. Instead of focusing on the issue with these couples I focus on these questions: Do you feel heard? If not, what do you contribute to that? How come your spouse is not feeling heard and what do you contribute to that?

We all have responsibility for how we express ourselves. Helping people to express themselves in healthy ways is a large part of my work in therapy. At the same time, it is helpful to recognize that people who are loud (and I certainly felt this weekend that the sound of silence during the national anthem was deafening!) feel that all other attempts to be heard have failed. Have we been listening? The debate rages and is getting louder. Is anyone really listening or are we just digging more deeply into our side of the issue? To be heard we have to lower our voices and open our ears and our minds.

Whatever side you are on in the football/national anthem debate, my guess is you are not feeling heard. The louder we get the LESS likely we will be heard. All we can ask ourselves is Am I really listening? If I am truly listening to you maybe you can lower your volume. If I lower mine then maybe you can begin to hear me. Maybe we can begin a dialogue---maybe we can enhance our marriage, maybe we can enhance our democracy.


If the sideline distractions are interfering with your marriage, a good referee can help you get back in the game. Call me, schedule an appointment, and together we can unite a championship team again.

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