Hope Springs (even if YOUR spring appears to be part of an old, broken mattress)
The movie “Hope Springs,” starring Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones may be good, great, or so-so, but the subject matter is directly relatable to my practice. I have witnessed people who have seen it and as a result become motivated toward action in their marriage.
The movie is about a middle-aged couple (with grown children) whose marriage has lost its life. There has not been a traumatic event—death, infidelity, abuse—that has led to the marriage break-down. The marriage has witnessed a gradual movement away from intimacy—connection of heart, mind, body. The road toward resolution for them involves a weekend retreat with a marriage counselor. I will not give away details and the details are not important to this blog.
My point is that the movie, thankfully, deals with a reality that is common for many of us: marriages are alive and they grow and change, get sick and recover health, die or are re-born. This is not glamorous. However, it is absolutely beautiful and sacred for the couple experiencing their own marriage. I appreciate the fact that this movie allows us to visit another couple’s troubled marriage without excessive performance drama, beauty, or false idolatry.
The answers the couple in question seeks are found in re-defining the way in which they connect with each other. This is sometimes referred to as Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy, or EFT.
Specifically, emotionally focused couple therapy seeks to establish connection between partners by examining relational patterns and assessing which patterns are working, which are not, and then identifying new techniques and interventions that establish reconnection in more helpful ways. A good example of this comes from an excerpt of Dr. Sue Johnson’s book, Hold Me Tight:
To reconnect, lovers have to be able to de-escalate the conflict and actively create a basic emotional safety. They need to be able to work in concert to curtail their negative dialogues and to defuse their fundamental insecurities. They may not be as close as they crave to be, but they can now step on each other’s toes and then turn and do damage control. They can have their differences and not careen helplessly into Demon Dialogues. They can rub each other’s raw spots and not slide into anxious demands or numbing withdrawal. They can deal better with the disorienting ambiguity that their loved one, who is the solution to fear, can also suddenly become a source of fear. In short, they can hold onto their emotional balance a lot more often and a lot more easily. This creates a platform for repairing rifts in their relationship and creating a truly loving connection.
Recognize that you and your partner have OPTIONS with respect to conflict, escalation, de-escalation, disconnection and connection. Next time you are in a heated, spiraling verbal conflict with your partner, be aware of the power the subject matter has over your relationship—the control you and your partner are willingly giving to an inanimate object. The subject may be important to you both—your children, their school, your work, your summer vacation, house work, finances, politics—but does the subject deserve the pain, isolation, cold war, the DISSOLUTION of your marriage?
Becoming aware of the circumstances surrounding conflict and disconnection is the first step in establishing new patterns and opportunities for you and your partner to control your relationship. Patterns of communication—of connection—work during certain periods and not during others; they change over time and can move from healthy to unhealthy. They can also be modified.
I appreciate “Hope Springs” as a catalyst to a couple’s examination of possibility within their own troubled marriage. There is hope. The aim of a movie, in my humble opinion, should be to connect each of us more easily and truthfully with the experience of our OWN life. If you are middle-aged and your marriage is on the rocks, this movie may help you do so.
Recognition is a good FIRST step. Call me for the next one.