reconcilable differences

What a week for long term relationships eh.


Last week was a psycho-social knuckle ride for me. I had my first explicitly political debate with my analyst. Scottish Independence. Discuss.


Despite creating Surviving Work to look precisely at the politics of mental health dear reader, I have to admit that I like to keep politics well away from my own therapy. Much as I’ve never had sex with a Tory, I want to avoid any post-intimacy realisation that the person I’m lying next to is in fact in political opposition to me. Not In My Psychic Back Yard.


In part this is to protect my analyst from the social-me that has spent slavish decades living Marxism. This political sophisticate is now recklessly cohabiting with the psycho-me, an infant of the deprived and feral kind. Combining to create a political economy where power and disadvantage cannot co-exist. Haves and have nots. Brutes and victims.


Up until the last minute I was all for Scotland breaking free and running to the beautiful resource-rich hills away from the evil grip of London and the political aristocracy of the day. Psychic code for a desired state of liberation from my dependency on a good doctor. Appealing to the deep unconscious I spend an entire therapy session banging on about the ideology of oppression without pausing for breath and ignoring the sigh of a disappointed internal object I plough on to announce “You do realise that come the resource wars we all need to be Scottish or Canadian just to have access to enough land and water and energy to survive the desertification of the entire globe!!!”


Before I even finish this emancipatory missive I realise there’s likely to be a bit of a balloon-popping interpretation about my desire to omnipotently escape the hard reality of a union between unequals. Bugger.


In my defence, like many people I’ve genuinely been blown away by the pure political power of 16 year olds holding and maintaining the political agenda. Truth speaks to power. But as a trade unionist I’m realistic about the terror of populism. The threat of being loved to bits.


By Thursday the confident words of the nationalists started to sound like a teenage bride bored by sugar daddy. Giddy on natural gas and youth, dependency gets rejected for a wild punt on omnipotence. Who is going to be the brave heart to point out that she actually can’t afford it?


Referendums are a political paradox that can deliver deeply undemocratic outcomes. I say this not because I is a fascist but the reality that anything reduced to a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ will inevitably miss the point when it comes to a relationship. This political paradox becomes obvious when a short angry man starts to use categorical binaries, where my words are just punctuation marks in his monologue. Rude as that is, when its combined with nationalist politics it also dangerously obscures what’s going on behind the political fakery of such heroic moments.


Fakery 1: the only way for people to get along is to share one identity. A logic where a 4th generation crofter in the Highlands and a posh bloke from the Scottish Borders become the same.


Fakery 2: if you are English you are the oppressor and if you are Scottish you’re born into servitude.


Fakery 3: The only way to overcome the oppressor is to have a Spartacus moment and reject any help from anyone ever again.


In a relationship, most of us have to grapple with the thorny question of need. How to have a relationship where you can depend on each other in the likely event that you are not exact equals? In the case of a patient and therapist, employer and employee, a smaller state and a larger one, can you be in a union with someone bigger than you without it becoming abusive?


The beauty of the Scottish Referendum was not the vote, it was the quality of the relationships that grew from the process. A conversation about the complex and profound stuff of who oppresses who and the nature of empowerment. A depressive conversation between unequals that reveals a deep and possibly begrudging respect for each other’s difference and dependency.



At the risk of sounding like a North London Relate counsellor, a union comes down to communication. Not the rights and wrongs, postures and positions rather the experience of listening to another and entertaining the possibility of being affected by what has been said. Unequals with reconcilable differences.


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