The recent Netflix film Marriage Story had its share of awards buzz this year, and deservedly so. It hits home because it shows all the nuances of an unravelling bond.
There are the rituals of care that any two lovers develop over time, for example her cutting his hair and his tidying up. We see the soft feelings, with the lists of “What I love about my partner,” as well as moments of loss and terrible pain throughout win-lose battles set up by the lawyers hired by the couple.
Marriage Story shows how the sinews of a relationship remain, as the bones –the emotional connection that provides the real structure – melt away.
This couple have a shared life, with a child and a mutual passion for theatre, but ultimately what they have not taken care of is their emotional connection.
This happens to so many of us.
Like the Paul Simon song “Slip Sliding Away,” we let this core element in our relationships just… slip. We take emotional connection for granted or dismiss its importance. But this connection – the attuning to each other’s softer feelings and longings – is the core of love.
This kind of sharing FEEDS the emotional bond that is love. In our EFT couple therapy sessions and in my book Hold Me Tight, my team and I show just how to help people bring this connection alive and hold onto it!
As a couple therapist, I found myself yelling at the screen, as a rabid hockey fan would at their losing team.
In the movie, Nicole, played by Scarlett Johansson, digs at her partner or just stays distant. Can you imagine how things might have been different if she had been able to turn and tell him, “I am afraid. I seem to be getting smaller. Disappearing. I need you to ask me what I want – to know that the longing in my heart matters to you.”
And if only Charlie, played by Adam Driver, had been able to respond to her plea. Or if Charlie had said to her, “We are so distant. I don’t know how to fix it. I feel alone and a friend is coming on to me – can we talk about what is happening to us? Are we losing each other? I don’t want to lose you. I need you.”
Both Nicole and Charlie’s statements would make up what we EFT folks call a Hold Me Tight conversation.
Regarding divorce, the movie got it right as to how the PROCESS of divorce, especially how the legal system, which in North America, at least, is an adversarial system of winners and losers, that exacerbates emotional pain and works against the collaboration and closure that is in the interest of kids and their parents.
Do Charlie and Nicole still love each other? Of course they do. That is very clear, but they do not have what you need to keep and repair a bond.
We call it A.R.E., as in ARE you there for me? THIS is the key question in love relationships always. In numerous studies of bonding science and in EFT, we lay out the
and (emotional) Engagement
that defines the security of the bond between lovers.
They have lost this emotional connection. Nicole rejects mediation because she has lost hope and lost her sense of trust in Charlie and their relationship. She sees him as obsessed with his career and almost indifferent to her needs and wants. She was also wounded his by having a sexual fling.
Just as we don’t know exactly what Charlie’s grievances are, we don’t see exactly how the A.R.E. in their relationship erodes, just the end result.
If they had found an EFT therapist, our studies – 20 positive outcome studies of distressed couples – tell us that we could have helped them to repair their bond in about 15 sessions. We could have showed them the way back to A.R. E, and to a Hold Me Tight conversation where they share hurts needs and fears in a way that pulls them closer and closer. So the answer to the question, “ARE you there for me?” would then have been YES.
No one needs to just let the script of Marriage Story run its course any more. We can understand, shape, repair and hold onto love. After 30 years it still leaves me a little breathless each time I say this!
This is good news, not just on holidays that celebrate love, like Valentine’s Day, but every day. And as the Sondheim song at the end of the movie says, love is what makes us truly ALIVE!