Avidan Milevsky Ph.D.

Band of Brothers, and Sisters

Obama and Netanyahu in Family Therapy

Mr. President and Mr. Prime Minister, for the sake of world peace, call me.

Posted Mar 25, 2015

Barack Obama, 53, and Bibi Netanyahu, 65, were referred to family therapy for relational discord. Although not from the same biological family, they were part of a blended family brought together by historical, geo-political, and ideological factors. While the relationship between the two has been strained over the past few years, more recent events have reached levels of hostility necessitating professional intervention.

The first few sessions were devoted to hearing from each of them about their perceptions of the current crisis. Barack noted that he feels that Bibi is disrespectful and that he sometimes acts like a bully. He also complained that Bibi can be arrogant and manipulative. When asked when he felt the problems started, Barack said that a lot of it had to do with disagreements they had over what to do with Iran. Barack also attributed the tensions to when he was running for reelection and he felt that Bibi was siding with his rival, Mitt. More recently what was most upsetting to him was when Bibi came to his country behind his back and gave a speech in front of congress against his Iran policy.

bing images
Source: bing images

When Bibi was seen individually in session he criticized Barack for being naïve about the world and incapable of hearing dissenting opinions. Bibi also expressed some jealousy about the strength and resources of Barack and noted that if he had what Barack has he would know how to take care of the world’s problems. Similar to the complaint of Barack, Bibi also attributed some of the tensions to Barack siding with his rival, Isaac, during his recent reelection campaign. Most disturbing to Bibi was a rumor he heard that Barack was going to the United Nations to try and intimidate him into agreeing to a Palestinian state. He wished he had a better relationship with Barack and was disappointed with some of the more recent friends Barack has been developing relationships with.

After the initial evaluation and assessment, the therapist identified three classic family dysfunctions that exist in the relationship between Barack and Bibi: enmeshment, triangulation, and emotional cut-offs.

Enmeshment occurs when families have weak boundaries. Members of enmeshed families do not respect the privacy of other family members and are constantly in their personal lives, resulting in overdependence. This causes family members to have little autonomy and a lack of independence. The continuous unhealthy involvement in each other’s lives, including interfering in local political issues, has created enmeshment between Barack and Bibi resulting in a diminished sense of personal independence and achievement.

Triangulation is a process that occurs when family members with a strained relationship use their relationship with a third party as a means to gain access to or influence the family member with whom they have the strained relationship. This process results in the third party being pulled into the conflict, creating an unhealthy triangle, and furthering and magnifying the family turmoil. Instead of trying to influence one another by talking openly about their problems, both Barack and Bibi have made it a habit to involved third parties in their fight. Barack has used his Secretary of State and is considering using the United Nations to influence Bibi while Bibi has reached out to John Boehner and the GOP to influence Barack.

The therapist also identified the presence of emotional cut-offs in the relationship, which is when rivaling family members distance themselves from each other, ignore each other, or avoid any open discussions about difficult issues. This is done to try and reduce the anxiety associated with the conflict. This cut-off is evident in the frequent occurrences of Barack and Bibi ignoring each other and their inability to openly communicate about their disagreements.

The therapist suggested that treatment should involve learning how to openly communicate, renegotiating their role in each other’s lives, and redefining their existing boundaries. Overtime, the treatment would lead to them having greater autonomy in their lives, not needing third parties to influence one another, and reengaging each other.

Mr. President and Mr. Prime Minister, for the sake of world peace, call me. My couch is waiting.