Hypothetical situation (for you, but part of the setup of film Maggie’s Plan): You are a single adult female and want a child, so you try inseminating sperm from an acquaintance. Around the same time you fall in love with a married man. He leaves his wife and has a child with you. After a few years you’re not happy. Do you:
A) Tell him you are not happy and process this together.
B) Consider marriage counseling.
C) Consider a separation or divorce.
D) Reach out to his ex-wife and see if she’ll take him back.
In Rebecca Miller‘s charming Maggie’s Plan, it’s the latter. Maggie (Greta Gerwig), considered by some a “control freak,” marries John (Ethan Hawke), who’d been with Georgette (Julianne Moore) when they met. Friends of Maggie include couple Tony and Felicia (Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph).
Although my theoretical non-therapist self went along for the ride of Maggie’s Plan and enjoyed it, my therapist self reserves the right to suggest that in real life the A, B, or C responses above might constitute a better plan. On the other hand, my therapist self also knows these same responses are not the road always taken. Not only that, B and C can’t be effectively performed without a well-honed A skill, often lacking.
A: Being Direct
Veering away from directness is a common tendency in emotionally fraught situations. Therapist Joyce Marter (Huffington Post) on the healthier way to go: “Being direct and assertive involves being honest and genuine while remaining appropriate, diplomatic and respectful of yourself and others. It is not passive (being a doormat or a wimp), passive-aggressive (indirect communication, like not returning calls or emails hoping somebody gets the hint) or aggressive (being hostile and rude.)”
Reasons to learn how to be more direct include, she says, valuing honesty, integrity, and respect for self and others; it “saves yourself and others time, energy and money”; and it enhances or increases intimacy.
How to be more direct (taken verbatim from Marter’s post):
- Scan your body and check in with the feelings you are holding inside. Make sure they are congruent with what you are saying. If your feelings are too intense to speak diplomatically, give yourself a “time out” to surf the waves of your feelings before opening your mouth.
- Before speaking, take Shirdi Sai Baba’s advice and ask yourself first, “Is it kind? Is it necessary? Is it true?” This will help you keep your ego in check and stop you from saying destructive things out of anger.
- Keep it simple. Concise, clear, and brief is always better.
- Speak in terms of “I” rather than “you” (“I need more physical affection” rather than “You don’t show me enough affection.”)
- Focus on the behavior, rather than the person (“I need you to let me know when you’re running late because I worry” rather than “You are an insensitive ass.”)
- Avoid “always” and “never” as they often are embellishments and will weaken your point.
- Avoid triangulation and becoming triangulated by speaking directly to the source and not putting somebody else or yourself in the middle.
- Choose to love yourself by saying, “no” as needed. Don’t over promise or over extend.
B: Marriage Counseling
In order to go the route of couples therapy, it has to be suggested by one partner first, of course, which requires direct communication. A couple key things one might strive to get across are ways your relationship could benefit and willingness to do your own changing.
C: Separation Or Divorce
If marriage counseling either doesn’t happen or doesn’t work, one or both partners might want to consider separation or divorce, in which case individual therapy can be helpful toward processing this possibility and/or figuring out how to take the needed steps.