Hi there. Welcome to my blog on relationships and movies. On these pages, I will showcase contemporary films that shine a light on the psychological dynamics of relationships, be they committed, dating, straight or gay.
As a couple counselor and cinemeducator (one who uses film to teach learners and clients), I believe I can spot a “spot-on” movie from the back row. And so I thought I would start my blog life by showcasing my favorite marriage/relationship movie of all time…not the deepest, not the funniest, certainly not the best-reviewed (it was pretty much panned by the critics)…but one that I love and which, for me, reveals more about the conflicts I treat daily in my clinical practice than any other movie I have seen.
And that movie is…drum rolls please…The Story of Us, a 1999 romantic dramedy directed by Rob Reiner and starring Bruce Willis (Ben) and Michelle Pfeiffer (Katie) as a married couple with two kids who have been married for fifteen years and decide to separate. We see the couple fight, make up, try to keep their spats from their kids, fight again, separate and then ultimately decide to stay together. So what can this movie teach us about committed coupling? As it turns out, a lot:
What’s not working in their relationship:
- Ben and Katie have the same fight over and over but with increasing intensity. Couples who often quarrel without resolution (and Ben and Katie do) inevitably reach a point where they become so disconnected that silence, as Katie says, becomes the predominant language of the relationship. These are often the couples we see in restaurants and dread becoming…the ones that sit in silence across from one another
- When it comes to relationships, opposites attract and then, without wisdom and maturity, often polarize and repel. Ben is the fun-loving one, Katie the more serious one. As their relationship develops, the couple gets locked into exaggerated versions of their roles and start playing off each other. Katie compensates for Ben’s fun-side (which increasingly looks like irresponsibility) by becoming ultra-serious and Ben compensates for Katie’s maturity (which increasingly looks like a lack of spontaneity) by becoming a third child. Just watch the scene where they are driving with their kids to drop them off to the bus leaving for summer camp and get stuck behind a large moving van to see what I mean.
- There are some funny scenes in the movie that show the couple going to three different marriage therapists. But there is a serious side to these scenes; namely that well-meaning couple therapists miss the mark by being more committed to their own particular model of therapy rather than meeting the couple where they are. When it comes to helping couples, therapeutic flexibility is more helpful than rigid adherence to any particular approach.
- Ben and Katie become volatile when they fight; they allow themselves to get emotionally hijacked. Just look at how quickly their return home after a trip to Europe which was successful in helping them to re-connect becomes blindsided by powerful antagonistic emotions.
What’s working in their relationship:
- Ben and Katie have a wonderful ritual of sitting down for dinner and having all members of the family recite their highs and lows for the day. Research shows that that families that eat dinner together are more likely to stay together than couples that don’t.
- By the end of the movie, both Ben and Katie are able to empathize with each other. By movie’s finish, we witness Ben seeing in his minds-eye how Katie might have experienced his short comings through their many years of married life. This scene illustrates the essence of empathy: the realization that “I could be you.”
- At the movie’s close, Katie has an epiphony which she shares with Ben as a monologue. She decides to stay with him because of the power of their shared history. It is a great scene that illustrates that, despite all the hard work and compromises that committed relationships entail, marriage is worth fighting for.
So there you have it. The Story Of Us, my favorite relationship movie, and a bit of an uncoventional choice at that. I will be blogging regularly about new releases that seem to me to reveal something important about relationships, whether they be box-office smashes, critical favorites or not…next on my list, Sex Tape. Please stay tuned. Do you have a movie that you think shows a realistic view of relationships what we could all learn from? Drop me a line here. Thanks and peace out.