Hope Springs

If you too just had a date with Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones  by joining them in Hope Springs, Maine, then welcome to the conversation about marriage!

Mark (you’ll come to know Mark – he’s my husband of almost 30 years and he’ll feature quite a bit in this blog) and I had a wonderful date at Howick’s Monterey Cinema last week and have found ourselves both irritated and excited by the film and it’s premise.

The irritated part comes from my frustration with how weak Meryl Streep’s character Kay is.  Come on!  Those of us born in the 1950’s did everything we possibly could not to recreate our parents’ 1950s marriages.  So, I did a spot of research about the screen writer Vanessa Taylor.  Interesting fact #1. Ms. Taylor has never been married. Interesting fact #2, Ms. Taylor is young enough to be my daughter (DOB 24 September 1978), is petite, gorgeous and talented. So – if one is supposed to write about what one knows, what on earth was she thinking when she dreamt up Hope Springs?

Here she is in a NYT interview:

“What if distance creeps into a relationship?” she asked. “Can you ever get back across? Or is it done? I was having trouble maintaining relationships. They’d get to a point, and distance would happen, and it kept happening over and over. I was trying to explore what you can do to heal those broken relationships, writing about it, and saying, ‘Let’s see if I can even imagine it.’ ”

OK, so maybe I can be less irritated if the writer was creating a character who was REALLY stuck so she could explore how to get unstuck. That’s actually a creative project to undertake.

Which brings me to the excited part.

Through my nearly 30 years of marriage, and through endless conversations with married friends over dinners, camping trips, river trips, school pick-up routines, shopping aisle encounters and more; through my life’s encounters with people as a facilitator, teacher and Life Coach and through my work as a Child and Family Therapist in the USA and as a Relationship Therapist here in New Zealand, I’ve been asking similar questions.  Well, lots more too actually. Questions such as:

  • Why marry – why not just stay living together?
  • Is it OK to fight?
  • How much is too much fighting?
  • What ways are there to grow as individuals within a marriage that do not involve fighting?
  • What is that “magic sauce” some couples have and can it be taught?
  • Why don’t they teach us anything about being in relationships at school?
  • Why don’t more couples get help when they get stuck?

Given how much sadness and anger some people endure in their lives, this last question intrigues me. What are we therapists doing that makes coming to us seem like “not an option”?

Is it the price tag (in my case for about the cost of filling your Ute weekly for a month you could transform your marriage for a lifetime).  Heck – if your tooth is throbbing you hot-foot it down to the dentist and fork over potentially $1000s to remove, canal or cap the offending molar whilst minimizing the pain with great meds.

Ah – maybe there’s the rub. Is there “out there” this lingering association between “great pain” as well as a “great price-tag” when it comes to therapy? I wonder how different it would be if we therapists could either offer you great meds to numb the pain, or make the process of coming to see a therapist less ghastly?

And, even with the bad rap therapy gets, let me just reassure you the profession is alive and well. Every day, folks like you are having conversations with folks like me. There are 3 broad reasons folks seek my help. I think of it as “Me”, “We” and “Us” issues.

What are the “Me” issues? It’s when one partner recognizes there might be something getting in the way of them being effective in their life or relationships. Maybe they feel they are still fighting ghosts from childhood, or  dragons from former relationships, or self esteem or body image issues. They come to see me about themselves – hoping that working on themselves will improve their relationships.

What are the “We” issues?  This is when both partners recognize there is something getting in the way of being happy together. Could be a blend of working with two people with “Me” issues above. Or, it could be that the couple sees pretty quickly how they wind one another up. Roz has a promotion and is increasingly late at work. Larry is lonely so when she finally comes home he snaps at her and complains about her hours, her lack or interest in their home life, in him or the kids. Roz feels less and less effective at home and dives ever more deeply into her work. Larry feels increasingly abandoned by Roz and complains more and more loudly.  The louder Larry complains the more Roz retreats into work and the louder Larry complains. Get it?

What are the “Us” issues? These are about external pressures on the couple that test their skills, resilience and partnership. These issues include illnesses, children, money worries, international moves, in-laws. With these quite often the couple is working together as best they can – but they need help, an expanded tool kit, support and maybe the recruitment of a wider community.

So, while I  deeply appreciate each week  the “Me”, “We” and “Us” couples I meet, I’d love to invite more couples to take the chance to shaking things up. Of getting a bigger, happier, zestier life.

I won’t be able to promise you great meds, but I am certainly here to offer you the “less ghastly” part. Now there’s a marketing slogan worthy of billboard space:’

“Come see Gemma – her form of therapy is less ghastly than you’re expecting.”

That’s my goal. To help couples shift through their pain to a more connected, loving, zesty and alive place whilst minimizing the pain along the way.

To celebrate Mark’s and my 30th anniversary I am committing to help more couples enjoy their marriages.  The countdown is on for our 30th wedding anniversary on November 20th. And here for this blog, is my Me / We / Us commitment.

Me Commitment – My first book (with the working title of ) “Use Your Words!” Move Your Marriage from Conflict to Compassion One Fight At A Time is on the way. The purpose is to provide couples with a simple but transformative way to use their fights to deepen their love. Nutty as this sounds, it is what I do at work every day – help couples take that energy and raw emotions that fights precipitate and mine it for the gold beneath.

We Commitment – Hey, don’t be a stranger! I’d love to get to know more about you and your marriage – where it is. By way of an introduction I’d love to send you an early sample of my chapter in the book on HOW NOT TO FIGHT ~ The 7 Deadliest Fight Strategies, subscribe to my blog and I’ll send you a PDF advance copy.

Us Commitment –  This one is about Mark and me.  I am inviting readers of this blog to help us celebrate our 30th Wedding Anniversary.  We’ve only been here in New Zealand for just over one year so have loads to see and experience here.  So, please send us ideas for how to best celebrate 30 years of marriage and our adventure here in Aotearoa. Budget: $1000. Suggestions sought.  I’ll of course publish the winning suggestion and our adventure!

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