|Meryl Streep as Kay in Hope Springs|
It is a feel good movie. Already I'm getting new business. So I feel good.
For so many young couples in therapy, that word eternal has absolutely nothing to do with reality. The phrase if from an essay on man by Alexander Pope.
They are right, of course, to be skeptical about the longevity of hope as it applies to human relationships, about eternal. The newness that a young couple feels, the excitement, the arousal, the thinking that this could last, has to change over time as we vie for what we want, strive to meet our individual needs.
That's how we're made, most of us, self-protective. And we desensitize to a steady diet of almost anything; even our partners lose their glitter, just like a favorite brand of cereal.
Worse, if we stay together for many years, unless communication is direct, kind, well received, productive, intimate, it is likely to be received poorly. When problems aren't resolved to the satisfaction of two, not one, an inventory grows, a list of grudges. And the goodness, whatever the good used to be, is squashed by resentment, the bad.
We might be bad at math, but when it comes to our relationships, we're great at keeping score.
YES, THERE ARE SPOILERS
I'll keep the spoilers to a minimum. Does it spoil the movie to say that Steve Carelle, as Dr. Bernie Feld, makes a cracker-jack couples therapist? Is he worth 4K to treat a couple for what we see as an hour a day for six days straight?
Suffice it to say that no therapist is worth 4K to spend 6-10 hours with you, and it is unlikely to be successful. I get the couples who go through these magical workshops six to twelve months later, when it is obvious that the intensive week failed. In my humble opinion, you'll get the same with a well-trained couples counselor who might even be covered by your HMO, meaning is being paid $60-$90 dollars for a 45 minute session. The couple pays $10-$50 of that out of pocket. Swipe goes the Visa.
And of course, I have to complain that Steve, as Dr. Bernie Feld, does not provide nearly enough of the psychoeducation a couple needs in therapy, especially not about sex. Couples hang on to sex education, every word. Need a couple's undivided? Talk about sex.
Oh, let's do that for one moment. Sex is a natural, physical need, like breathing and, well, defecating. That it has been relegated to intimate relationships, committed relationships, is not a shame, rather a human cultural development (or you could say, if it is your cultural belief, a God thing). When it is good, and when it lasts in a relationship, it becomes a glue, a way of saying, You're My Number One.
That is comforting as our wrinkles begin to show, as the bellies go to flab.
What happened to Kay and Arnold?
Wonderful lessons in this movie, nothing you need to read about here. The movie will eventually be on HBO. But Dr. Feld wouldn't have turned anyone off had he addressed intimacy fears more directly. He never brings in family of origin, or how affection matters in life, especially in marriage, how that begins with Mom and Dad, as do our unmet needs, our habits, our attitudes-- what we think is okay and is not okay when it comes to sex. But we only have 90 minutes.
The main beef for those of us who study relationship therapies professionally, is that the therapist doesn't get out of the couple system quickly enough. He finally tells Kay to speak directly to Arnold on Day 4. He, the doctor, asks the questions and wants the answers directed to him.
A couples therapist wouldn't want to be in any of those conversations.
Therapist: "Tell Arnold how you feel about your very best time having sex."
So much better than,
"Tell me about your very best sexual experience."
No wonder poor Arnold walks out on him.