Archive for September, 2012

Hope Springs

September 19, 2012

Have you seen Hope Springs? – the movie starring Meryl Streep (as Kay) and Tommy Lee Jones (as Arnold) as a couple in a long-term, dead marriage?  It’s worth seeing because of the important lessons it teaches us about relationships.

Here’s what Ellyn Bader, the co-founder of The Couples Institute in California says about the movie:

“Kay and Arnold sleep in separate bedrooms. He’s gruff. She’s passive. She makes him the same eggs for breakfast every morning. He watches the golf channel. They rarely talk and never touch. LifSe goes on until the loneliness gets to be too much for Kay.”

The viewer is held in suspense – can love and sexuality really be re-ignited in a 30-year old marriage? And can Hollywood portray couples therapy in a positive light?

My verdict … they did an excellent job! There’s gut-wrenching authenticity about a disintegrating marriage. There are awkward and unsuccessful sex scenes. There’s confrontational directness from their therapist Dr. Bernie Feld (played by Steve Carell).

And instead of affairs, special effects, murders or explosions, real life lessons are sprinkled throughout the film:

Lesson 1: It’s usually one partner who finally has the courage to get the couple into a therapist’s office.

Kay had the courage to put their marriage on the line. She took the risk. She started something of a revolution by using her own money to buy airplane tickets and to purchase the couple’s intensive therapy getaway week. She did what needed to be done.

At one point early in the movie, before the intensive therapy week, Kay and a friend have a brief conversation about whether change is really possible in a marriage. Her friend declares that it’s not, but Kay doesn’t settle for that answer.

Lesson 2: A couple may never have discussed their problem before they walk into our offices. They may not even know what it is!

Even though Kay found the courage to put their marriage on the line, she could not talk to Arnold about her deep loneliness and frustration. Their relationship had a history of conflict avoidance. She didn’t have the tools or fortitude to embark on what surely would have been one enormous, unproductive fight had she persisted in addressing their issues without the help of a therapist. And like so many couples, a fight is what each dearly hoped to avoid.

Lesson 3: Even with your expert help, marriage repair takes time, and it will have ups and downs. It isn’t a linear progression. Each partner must take risks, and the risks are not always met or supported by the other.

Several of the therapy sessions in the intensive week did not go the way that Kay and Arnold, or even Dr. Feld (played by Steve Carrell), would have liked. The intensive couples therapy doesn’t even necessarily have a totally happy ending. Watch the movie to learn more, but the movie highlights setbacks are a normal part of the process.

Lesson 4: Couples do best with a therapist who has excellent confrontation skills, jaw-dropping directness, and the ability to remain calm while bringing up what the partners are avoiding.

Really, the biggest message I took from the movie is the message of courage.  The courage it takes to start change in a dying marriage, and the courage it takes to be a couple’s therapist who tells the truth openly with grace and dignity.

Dare Ya

If you haven’t seen this film yet, please do. If you have seen it I encourage you talk to your partner about what things you need to do in your own relationship to avoid a pattern of disconnection that the couple in the film so painfully illustrate.

Ideas might be how to execute a regular date time; to have a “deep” conversation about life and future; how to get back on track if you are starting to veer that way; why is it easier to disconnect than stay connected to your partner? Just some thoughts from me but you add your own.

Yours truly,