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"That's Love Dying"

I know it’s been out for a bit, but I just saw the film, Blue Valentine. If you haven’t seen it, it’s the kind of film that will really impact you and make you think, though as one critic called it, it may truly by the “feel bad movie” of the year because you won’t leave smiling. The film follows the relationship between Dean and Cindy, both past and present, and gives you just enough detail to have some idea of why they are currently so disconnected, but leaves a lot for the viewer to sort out, think about, and figure out on their own. The other thing this film does is show two very complex people that you cannot completely love or hate; you can see how they both have annoying and off-putting traits, but they are also adorable and like-able. Basically, like real people!

As a therapist who works with couples, when the characters were fighting I found myself almost wanting to shout at the screen (like you might do during a horror film) – “wait! you might be missing something! Ask him what he needs right now! Ask her more about what she meant just then!” The dialogue between Dean and Cindy is typical of couples who are either in a moment of disconnection, or experiencing a more prolonged period of disconnection from one another. In the Gottman method of couples therapy, we call the pattern “attack and defend” where one partner has been feeling resentful or angry so states something that they need in a negative or attacking way. For example, “I’m sick and tired of you never helping me clean this place up!” {translation: I really need your help with cleaning.} To which the other partner responds defensively, for example, “Well, when was the last time you helped me with anything?” {translation: You really hurt my feelings just now, and I need to throw this negativity back on to you to protect myself.} The conversation, having started on a negative tone, tends to end on a negative tone with nothing resolved and with both partners usually feeling frustrated, needs unmet, and perhaps even a bit hopeless about the relationship.

Now, all couples can get into these modes, but if the attack and defend pattern starts to become characteristic of how a couple communicates, it can begin to eat away at the loving, tender, and fond feelings they have for each other. For this reason, in couples therapy, I spend a great deal of time coaching couples how to interrupt “attack-defend” patterns, and help them become astute observers of their own unique triggers for going into this mode. Blue Valentine demonstrates very well the damaging impact of chronically being stuck in attack and defend, and how this can lead to alienation between two people. In fact, one film critic stated about the film, “that’s love dying, right up there on the screen”. The sadness of the film is just how real and relatable it is. Though it is difficult to watch in some ways, I would highly recommend it as a way to understand relationships and how they evolve under stress when communication has broken down. Seeing the film, can also be a great motivation to take care of your relationship!

It turns out that what we do on a daily basis in our relationships is extremely important. So in Gottman therapy, we use a tool called the “relationship poop detector” which basically encourages couples on a weekly basis to think about what has gone on in their relationship the previous week, and identify things that need to be addressed. Far from being tedious, this is actually what helps couples feel connected, and keeps love alive!

For a video review of the film, check out this link:

For more information on the Gottman method of couples therapy, check out their website:

As always, I welcome your questions and comments! Thanks for reading!

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