Nov 13

“The One I Love”: A Strange Kind of Couples Retreat

The One I Love puts forth an intriguing notion: Can rational people accept the inexplicable if it will bring them greater happiness? Claudia Puig, USA Today

At the start of The One I Love, now available on DVD, a couple with issues goes to therapy—-and things get really weird.

The Trailer

The Plot

David Edelstein, Vulture, briefly summarizes:

In the funny-strange sci-fi psychodrama The One I Love, Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss play a foundering couple, Ethan and Sophie, whose attempt to recover the happiness in their marriage takes them—on the advice of a therapist played by Ted Danson—to an isolated country estate where they meet … themselves. Or, rather, each of them meets someone who looks exactly like the other but is warmer and more attentive. Is it a dream? A shared psychosis? A portal to another dimension? (The couple ruminate on all these possibilities themselves.) The more urgent question is: What do you do when your mate is clearly falling for the person you were rather than the person you are?

The Therapist

Matthew Kassel, New York Observer: “He makes them play random notes on an in-office piano—a bogus indication that their marriage is out of sync—and then recommends they get away to a rural retreat to ‘reset the reset button.'”

The Therapist-Recommended Retreat

Sheila O’Malley, “The ‘retreat’ is a weekend alone in a big old house on a large property, complete with a pool and guest house. There are no other guests. There is no guru leading them through trust exercises. There is no Steve Carell in ‘Hope Springs.’ It is just Ethan and Sophie, hanging out, exploring the grounds.”

The Couple (the only characters besides the briefly portrayed shrink)

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle: “We’re presented with a couple that is beyond listening to each other. They no longer seem to believe in the other person’s virtue or specialness. And every positive association they have about each other is related to some past memory, when everything was new and they were both on their best behavior. So should they stay together? And if they do, what can they still expect to find?”

Alonso Duralde, The Wrap: “It’s not just familiarity that has bred contempt between them: Ethan was unfaithful once, and Sophie has yet to forgive him. At the same time, she has habits and walls of her own, so she’s hardly blameless for their current malaise.”

More About the Ensuing Plot

Sheila O’Malley,

…(W)hat they open themselves to is a Hall of Mirrors, increasingly disturbing, and the secrets start to pile up again, casually at first, and then consciously and deliberately…The two actors create a very real relationship, with a sense of shared joy in one another’s company, and myriad problems threatening to derail the entire thing. We can see how bored they are with life, with themselves, and with each other. To Ethan, trying something new means ‘going horseback riding with a satchel of wine.’ Ethan and Sophie are not extraordinary characters. But the situation in which they find themselves in is.


Claudia Puig, USA Today: “The One I Love succeeds on several levels. It’s an astute and often funny look at relationships, and it’s also a cleverly designed high concept that keeps audiences fully engaged. It’s sharply written by Justin Lader and well-directed by Charlie McDowell (son of British actor Malcolm McDowell). The chemistry between Moss and Duplass is spot-on.”

Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times: “’…one of those highly original films whose secrets are best experienced without much hint of what’s to come. So I’ll just say that the film feels like it might be a romantic comedy, but soon becomes something else; that Moss and Duplass have a charming, playful chemistry; that the film takes us to some unexpected places; and that, after watching it twice, I’m still not certain that the concept holds up.”

Sheila O’Malley, “Unabashedly entertaining at an efficient 91-minutes, ‘The One I Love’ is an extremely confident first feature, with some really fun things to say about identity and relationship, connection and destiny.”

Feb 13

“Movie-and-Talk” Couples Therapy a Reasonable Alternative

Widely reported online, a three-year study (that apparently only found heterosexuals as subjects) has determined that divorce risk for relatively newly married couples was significantly lowered when they watched movies about relationships together and then discussed them. This non-therapeutic-sounding “movie-and-talk” method was compared to both a conflict management model and an intervention in which compassion and acceptance are the focus.

The two more traditional therapies “involved weekly lectures, supervised practice sessions, and homework assignments over the course of a month, for a total investment of roughly 20 hours, all but two of which were with a therapist” (U. of Rochester).

By contrast, the movie-and-talk group devoted half as much time to their assignments and all but four hours took place in their own homes. Participants first attended a 10-minute lecture on the importance of relationship awareness and how watching couples in movies could help spouses pay attention to their own behavior, both constructive and destructive.

Unexpectedly, all three therapies were about equally helpful. But the control group receiving no help at all wound up divorcing at twice the others’ rate.

Ronald Rogge, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Rochester and the lead researcher, believes the movie-and-talk findings indicate that spouses already basically know their own issues—it’s paying attention to them and communicating about them that’s often missing.

Another conclusion (as quoted on PsyBlog): “You might not be able to get your husband into a couples group, especially when you are happy. But watching a movie together and having a discussion, that’s not so scary. It’s less pathologizing, less stigmatizing.” No going to a therapist’s office required!

Rogge further explains below:

Want to learn more? Read what Rogge and Thomas N. Bradbury, of the Relationship Institute at the University of California, wrote in The Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology (December 2013).

Want to try out this unusual marital technique yourself? Go to the lab website of Rogge, which includes a list of pre-approved movies that fit the study’s criteria—for example, not being too sappy. The couples in these films have to experience significant struggles (even if not so realistic in some cases).

To fill in some glaring-to-some-of-us gaps, I’ve compiled my own starter list of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender relationship movies. Moreover, it’s my opinion that just as LGBT individuals and couples can (and often do) benefit from discussing non-LGBT movies together, non-LGBT couples can benefit from discussing these too:

May 06

Puppet Therapy on TV: “Felt” Acts Out Real Therapy Sessions

When you think of puppet therapy (and you do, don’t you?), is it the kind in which puppets are used by a therapist to assist clients—usually kids—to express themselves? Or is it the kind in which both clients and therapists are actually puppets?

Below, an example of the former on a recent episode of NBC’s Community—albeit the “clients” aren’t kids and the puppet provider isn’t a therapist (UPDATE: sorry, the clip is no longer available).

The other kind of puppet therapy is represented on a new TV series premiering tonight on Logo. In a play on words, it’s called Felt, and it features two-feet-tall puppets who re-enact real couples counseling sessions. A tagline: Couples therapy is hilarious…when it comes from the mouths of puppets.

Only the participants’ identities aren’t real. As Logo states below, everything else is:

Produced from REAL and intensely private recorded sex therapy and couples therapy sessions, this unexpected series follows several puppet couples, both gay and straight, exploring their most personal issues. From discussions on the therapist’s couch to intimacy exercises in the bedroom, nothing is off limits as our fuzzy friends work on their relationship challenges. Hilarious, audacious, and just-the-right-kind-of-wacky, these puppets convey the most vulnerable of emotions better than any human could. It’s a show so captivating, with emotions so real, they can only be FELT.

A brief preview reveals Rachel, one of three therapists on Felt, as well as one gay couple in need of help:

Jan 10

Therapy Quotes from WitStream

The following recent therapy quotes come from WitStream, “the only curated, live comedy news ticker providing an endless flow of hilarious commentary…only the best-written, funniest headlines with a distinct point of view.” Their tagline: What’s funny about what’s happening, now.

Everything makes so much sense in therapy, then you leave their office and immediately think, “Wait, what was I supposed to do?!” Will Weldon

“You can’t convince me I’m not stupid, I’m too smart for that!” – Subtext behind everything I say in therapy. Avery Edison

i’ve spent $35,000 on therapy…well on frasier dvds but u know same thing (Cornell Reid)

Who needs therapy? You can just trick a friend into doing it by shoving them and ask hostilely, “Hey, man, what’s MY problem??” Erin Whitehead

Therapy hasn’t really made me feel any better, it just made me understand why I feel bad. Corey Pandolph

I don’t want to brag but I definitely won therapy today. Louis Peitzman

be back soon, have to go to therapy. and by therapy I mean “sabotage my health by eating lots of ice cream” (Mary Charlene)

I time my therapy sessions to always end on a cliffhanger. Josh Comers

What I thought was laudable self-awareness is, according to my therapist, crippling self-consciousness. Which is embarrassing (see above). Avery Edison

i go to therapy to deal with people who don’t go to therapy (Lauren Ashley Bishop)

I like to call therapy baggage claim. Aparna Nancherla

I can’t afford therapy right now so I just complain to my friends I like the least. Sam Morril

It was close, then a tie, then we went into overtime, but I emerged victorious. I did it – I won couples therapy! Sarah Thyre

Starting therapy today, which is like a man who’s had a knife stuck in his foot for 30 years deciding he should maybe see a podiatrist. Patrick Walsh

Therapist said my persistent ambivalence is holding me back. Not sure how I feel about that. Matthew O’Brien

Therapist says my problem is I’m too self-critical, when ACTUALLY it’s that I’m full of poison, evil, and failure. DUH. Avery Edison

Nov 13

“After the Affair”: Infidelity, Forgiveness, and Recovery

In the mid-90’s psychologist Janis Abrahms Spring, Ph.D., along with husband Michael Spring, wrote what may be the best book for couples, gay and straight, trying to recover from one partner’s affair. After the Affair: Healing the Pain and Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful now has a revised edition, with a new section regarding cyber-affairs.

A review of After the Affair by Samantha Smithstein, another psychologist, describes the stages of recovery outlined in this book:

In the first stage, Reacting to the Affair, she empathizes with the likely feelings of the ‘hurt partner’ and the ‘unfaithful partner’ (her language), giving language to, and normalizing, their experiences. In the second stage, Deciding Whether or Recommit or Quit, she helps both members of the couple confront their ambivalence about the relationship and make a thoughtful decision about whether or not to stay. In the third stage, Rebuilding Your Relationship, she reviews strategies and tools to help the couple rebuild trust, intimacy, and get to forgiveness.

What about the issue of whether or not to confess an affair to begin with? From an interview with Spring in the New York Times

Some experts say you absolutely must reveal it in order to rebuild your relationship. When you reveal your affair, it deconstructs your relationship and allows for a new level of honesty.

Other experts say you absolutely must not reveal it. When you do, you destroy the spirit of the hurt partner. They never recover. Keep it to yourself.

I have found that people go on to build better bonds, better marriages, after telling and after not telling. What is essential is to understand the meaning of the affair, why they had the affair and to address those issues.

One of the dangers of not telling is that people give up the lover, return to the marriage, but they never face the problem and so they live in a prison. They come back to something stale or damaged and they never work to reinvent their relationship. That’s not good for anyone.

Let’s say confession has occurred, recovery has begun, but forgiveness is a sticking point. If so, she has another excellent resource, How Can I Forgive You?: The Courage to Forgive, the Freedom Not To (2004). Like After the Affair, this book presents original ideas that came from her many years of clinical experience. 

Not for issues of infidelity only, this book advises that you may or may not decide forgiveness is the choice for you.

As stated in the book description, Spring “…proposes a radical, life-affirming alternative that lets us overcome the corrosive effects of hate and get on with our lives—without forgiving. She also offers a powerful and unconventional model for genuine forgiveness—one that asks as much of the offender as it does of us.”