Couples-Therapy For Partisan Politics
I read an article from the Guardian.UK today, titled “All relationships begin with fantasy;” why young couples are seeking therapy. It was an interesting take on how therapists are seeing a rise in clients under 30, signaling a shift to a ‘maintenance rather than crisis’ view of the practice.
Two things stuck in my mind as I read further; one, that those under thirty, at least in America, are touted as our last hope in saving democracy. I wobble a bit on last hopes, but the second thought was why not bring the committed left and dedicated right on stage at one time for intervention therapy?
If all relationships begin with fantasy, isn’t a commitment to politics a relationship?
And, taking that political relationship a step further, isn’t it begun with the fantasy of a dreamland on both sides? To paraphrase the first part of the article;
Irene Republican, 28, and Dillon Democrat, 24, hadn’t been together a year when they first started couples therapy. The couple, from Los Angeles, started seeing each other in the early days of lockdown, when severe growing pains set in. They found themselves constantly arguing, and their differing communication styles left both of them confused. Specifically, says Irene: “Dillon appeared to “not give a fuck about anything, while I give a lot of fucks.
Whoa, let’s parse that last sentence for today’s political standoff between parties. Dillon thinks all Republicans are morons and Irene wants to get control of the electorate and run the country the way only Republicans can run it.
The burning question is, can this relationship be saved?
Can couples-therapy bring these two closer, from what seems insurmountable differences—so they can survive those differences, move in together, perhaps marry and have children—in order to save both their relationship and American democracy?”
“We were almost going to call it,” Irene remembers. But then, something changed. “I was telling Dillon about my therapy appointment one day, and he asked, ‘So when are we going to do couples counselling?’”
Republican Irene and Democrat Dillion didn’t share a child, a pet, or even a bedroom. The length of their commitment itself could have easily allowed for a clean break, yet instead, they self-prescribed couples counselling.
So, let’s suppose for a moment.
Let’s suppose that the next big thing was a TV show named Couples Therapy for Left and Right, bringing together an articulate pair made up of a dedicated liberal and a devoted conservative. They needn’t be an actual couple, the idea is that they have agreed to bring their best game to a moderator and be open to listening. My choice for moderator would be Jordan Peterson and my wife favors Oprah Winfrey, but whoever it is should be a skilled therapist.
I think the idea has great potential, in that it is bound to garner widespread viewership from both right and left. But, more important than that, its bound to bring sharp debate, enable a few tears of regret and kick off a divorce or two here and there.
Life is different since the internet and it’s not all fun and games.
What the internet has enabled is wildfires of conspiracy-theory and a retreat to tribalism and flash-mobs. 312 years ago Jonathan Swift wrote in The Examiner,
“Besides, as the vilest Writer has his Readers, so the greatest Liar has his Believers; and it often happens, that if a Lie be believ’d only for an Hour, it has done its Work, and there is no farther occasion for it. Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it; so that when Men come to be undeceiv’d, it is too late; the Jest is over, and the Tale has had its Effect…”
Which we have modernized to “lies circle the globe, while truth is hitching up its pants.” Long story short, any of the wildest lies will gain an instant audience and its followers are likely to outnumber any hope of retraction or disproof. And, of course, retraction or disproof is still in its underwear, looking for its socks.
(Guardian) The American Psychiatric Association recently reported 37% of Gen Z have sought counseling, followed closely by millennials at 35%, and therapists believe the shift to viewing mental health as something that needs to be maintained – rather than only attended to in a crisis – has changed the way younger people view their relationships, too.
“In general, younger generations tend to feel less shame around seeing a therapist and are into self-improvement and sharing feelings,” says Simone Bose, a couples counsellor for Relate, a UK couples counselling charity. “Often one of them has had individual therapy before and suggests attending relationship counselling together,” she says.
We can’t hope for widespread individual therapy.
So, let’s make it a game, something not to be missed in popular media. If George Clooney was watched by 5 million viewers in each installment of ER and Thursday Night Football can garner another 5 million, there might be hope for a series in which the entirety of political partisanship has an interest.
But mostly I’m interested in the follow-on conversations, the “Hey, did you see Couples Therapy for Left and Right last night? The liberal (or conservative) dude got his (or her) ass handed to him or her.”
“Yeah, but I don’t think they made their case. Remember how they had to backtrack and make excuses?”
Jesus, if only we could that kind of dialog over coffee instead of the dreary and uninspired political discourse of the moment. Possibly, just possibly we might begin to see things change on both sides of the aisle in Washington.
And wouldn’t that save a busted relationship?
One year into therapy, Irene admits she and Dillon are “very different people” than when they started therapy. Their therapist frequently pushed the pair to unravel any past arguments from the week prior and identify its catalyst. Within the first few sessions, Irene says they reverted back into the “honeymoon phase”. While at times, Dillon may feel unappreciated and Irene misunderstood, therapy has given the couple the tools to articulate these emotions.
Yeah, with the proper tools and a little inspiration, you can build almost anything. Certainly, America’s political house could use a new roof and a bit of re-landscaping.