“Hope Springs” portrayed the bleak loneliness of living in parallel; a couple that is not connected, yet functioning in day-to-day living. I see varieties of that in my office, and in answer to my question, “If I were a fly on the wall in your house, what would I see?”
From the outside, no one would know the couple was distressed.
There are several schools of couple’s counseling, and what was shown in the movie is a type of sex therapy.
Here are the couples’ tips and questions I gleaned from watching the movie:
One person can start couples counseling; ultimately you both have to invest in it.
Remember how you met, your dating life; let yourself feel how you felt back then.
When you noticed things drifting apart, did you ask him or her to come back to the intimacy of your relationship?
Talk about sex, and be specific about what you like and need, what you don’t want, and share fantasies.
Hold each other at night, without it ending up as sexual touch or in intercourse.
Touch each other deliberately and sensually, without it ending up in intercourse.
YOU have to try in your relationship.
Ask questions, and own your part in whatever happened.
Take a leap of faith; go out of your comfort zone.
Please each other.
Make your partner more important than your pride.
Have you done everything you can? Is this the best you can do?
Each of you has to put effort into your relationship.
Share your feelings, unasked.
Make what is important to your partner important to you.
Is "Hope Springs" a realistic depiction of couple’s counseling?
Yes and no. Yes, in how grim and lonely people are in a marriage that’s not close and connected. Yes, in the resistance to go to counseling. Yes, in how easily one can slip back in habitual patterns unless a conscious choice is made to practice new behaviors every day.
No, in that people don’t too easily try experiments that are a huge leap from where they currently are together. Most people need to try small things and build trust and confidence in the process. No, in that couple’s sexual and emotional life tend to run in parallel and addressing the sexual without addressing the emotional doesn’t heal enough between you.
There were many examples of what the therapist did well in the movie. He:
Asks good questions, e.g., he asked her why she brought her husband to counseling.
Is reassuring to the couple.
Is persistent in following topics and the couple’s process.
Names what is happening in the room.
Tells Arnold, “Actually, it’s not enough to just be here.”
Handles anger well, and stays with them through it.
Finally turns the couple to each other to talk (although not until day three, and late in the process by my reckoning).
Asks about sex, and what was their best sex, even if it was terrible.
Says couples come to counseling either to fix their marriage or to end it (I’ll add that sometimes one or the other doesn’t know yet).
Addresses and names setbacks as normal, and talks of failure.
Encourages them not to give up. He says this is a prelude to a fuller or richer marriage.
Many things were left out in “Hope Springs;” it is a movie, after all. Here are several:
“Intensive” vs. ongoing counseling (you can get a start in a week. How long have your issues been building?).
Focusing on emotional connection and attachment.
Touch (other than it eventually becoming sexual).
The couple does not fight.
The couple’s kids are grown; there is no juggling life with kids.
There are no work/life balance issues.
They have no financial concerns.
The therapist does not turn them to one another until three days into counseling, and he does not teach them tools and skills to last a lifetime.
Lastly, and maybe most importantly, it makes it seem as if you have sex, everything will be peachy and you will live happily ever after. Relationships take ongoing work and play. It can be harmful to put your relationship on the back burner for long periods of time.
I recommend you see “Hope Springs,” if for no other reason than to know you are not the only couple having issues. Plus, hopefully, you will open conversations about your own marriage.