OPINION: We Need to Treat Our Politics Like Marriage Counselling

Election Day is Monday, but if you’re reading this website, you probably already know that. So now’s the time to ask if there are any final thoughts, and Guelph Politico has received one, and from a person who knows one of the candidates rather intimately.

This piece was submitted unsolicited to Guelph Politico, where all opinions are welcome and ready to be received. If you would like to submit your own opinion, send an email to adamadonaldson [at] gmail [dot] com.


As a couple and family therapist for more than a decade, I often see the world through this lens, and the upcoming Federal Election is no different.

Success in couples therapy doesn’t necessarily mean that partners stay together; sometimes after successful couples therapy, divorce is the most constructive and honest step possible. What’s critical for success, either way, is that the process is genuine and transparent – that partners tell the truth about their priorities. For this reason, marriage counselling is not successful when one partner is filing for divorce on the sidelines.

So when couples come to me teetering on the brink of divorce, seeking counselling in hopes that positive change can still come, before embarking on couples work, I first speak with partners individually – to see if the ingredients for possible success are present.

In my experience, if one partner has already taken concrete action in the direction of leaving, the marriage counselling will waste everyone’s time and money. The negotiations are in bad faith. Such a process is brutally unfair for the partner who is genuinely working on a change process with the understanding that it’s a mutual effort.

Often, couples counselling begins with partners unsure if the marriage is salvageable, yet both truly willing to try, agreeing to wait on leave-stay decisions until giving a fair shot to 6-12 months of mutual, hard work on change. Salvaging the marriage may not be possible, but when both partners are honestly focused on working to make real change, it’s not doomed to fail from the start of counselling.

Sometimes, however, I learn in the individual meetings that one partner is speaking to divorce lawyers on the side even while seeking marriage counselling. In my experience, such activity is not compatible with a genuine effort to heal and change the marriage. Like spousal abuse or an on-going undisclosed affair, such action undermines couples therapy. I would consider it an injustice on my part to participate. The intention to follow through with the marital change process is suspect, undermined by the back-channel pursuit of self-interest at the expense of the other partner.

Sometimes the partner talking to divorce lawyers says to me, “I’m not sure I’m leaving the marriage, I’d like it if the marriage improved so I didn’t feel the need to do this; when things improve, I’ll stop seeking divorce.” I tell this partner that some counsellors might take their money and proceed, but I need the process to have more integrity – words and actions lining up – for me to join it. Otherwise, the change effort is not honest enough and won’t be successful.

That brings me to the upcoming Federal Election.

Buying a pipeline is as incompatible with real climate action as filing for divorce is with engaging in a genuine marital change process. Just as we can’t succeed in couples counselling if divorce action is already being taken by one partner, we can’t invest in carbon infrastructure, propping up a dying industry, while claiming to be genuine advocates for climate and the new, clean economy. We can’t saddle Canadian citizens with the clean-up costs of a pipeline that no corporation wants and no insurance company will under-write, to transmit fossil fuels that must stay in the ground if we want a sustainable future on this planet for our kids and grandkids.

When candidates say they are “Advocating for Climate Action” while their parties’ actions invest in the obsolete oil that climate scientists agree will fast-track catastrophic feedback loops rendering Earth uninhabitable for millions of people, I don’t see the dots lining up. Some might stomach this kind of double-speak, but I’m not one of them.

Guelph is very fortunate to once again have a true and strong alternative to the lukewarm climate action of the Liberals and the woeful climate negligence of the Conservatives.

Our local Green candidate, Steve Dyck, has recently been named and featured by national and even international organizations. Nationally, “Our Time” (the New Green Deal) identified Steve as one of Canada’s 13 Climate Champions, in recognition of 10-plus years of working across party lines to organize, advocate, and lobby on behalf of Canadians, future generations, and a livable planet. GreenPAC, another non-partisan, national organization that highlighted climate leaders across Canada, has also endorsed Steve Dyck for MP.

And the Guardian, read internationally and published in the U.K., has now run a feature story on Steve’s campaign here in Guelph. As the founder of the Guelph chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby several years ago, Steve has a proven track record of bringing people together across party lines to focus on practical solutions – here and in Ottawa – for the greater good. We need Steve Dyck in Parliament as Guelph’s MP.

Yes I’m biased – he’s my husband. Yes, personally, professionally, and politically, it matters to me deeply that people – and parties – walk their talk. A party that does one thing and says another lacks integrity. If there ever was a time to get priorities straight, it’s now.

What’s needed is climate action so clear and decisive that in the next 18 months we have a chance of changing the catastrophic trajectory we are currently on – according to the the best climate science on the planet. This means an honest and undivided investment of energy, time, and value. Not the double-speak I’m hearing from too many politicians: “I’d like it if alternative energy improved so we didn’t need to subsidize pipelines; when things improve, we’ll stop this short-sighted carbon-extraction that serves some in our current economy at the expense of many, many, more.”

Let me be clear. I’m not saying that this election is a marriage or a divorce. But as a therapist who’s been pursuing my calling for over a decade, I’ve seen first-hand the heartache and the heart-break caused by empty promises and half-hearted change efforts. As Elizabeth May said to us when she was here recently, “It’s time to stop talking about what’s possible, and start doing what’s necessary.”

The recently released Green platform charts an amazing vision – an inspirational perspective on what we can do in the next ten years, not only for the environment but also for a clean and caring economy, restoration of indigenous relations, and social justice. Mission Possible is the Green Party’s climate plan, and like the rest of the Green platform has been fully costed and independently audited. I’d love to see that kind of trustworthiness in other parties’ platforms.

Steve, a business owner whose solar company won the Guelph Chamber of Commerce award in 2015, understands fiscal responsibility. Hundreds of canvassers and an amazing crew of campaign organizers are working every day every week to see that Guelph goes Green again in October. It’s so exciting that Guelph is one of the ridings that is leading nationally in the number of voters who are supporting the Green Party, on par with Nanimo, B.C., where a Green was just elected federally.

We are well on our way, Guelph! Mike Schreiner has worked tirelessly on behalf of our community and all of Ontario in Queen’s Park. Let’s send someone to Ottawa who walks the walk.


Vera Dyck, married to Steve Dyck for 28 years, is a mother, community volunteer and activist, writer and psychotherapist living in Guelph.

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