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The conversation below has been condensed and edited for clarity. Ashley Fetters: Did you like Marriage Story? Or did it feel like work to watch it?
Ian Kerner: No, I really liked it. Some things I do have a hard time [with], like I had txlk harder time watching that show Couples Therapy on Showtime. That felt like going to work. This was just so amazingly acted and complex, but also really funny.
Those couples often get better and stronger. Fetters: So you saw this marriage as one that could have been saved, not one that necessarily had to end in divorce? So I just felt like, why are they getting divorced?
Do they really need to be getting divorced right now? But I felt like there was a real potential for them to hear and learn from each other. They had the capacity to learn. Where do you start with them?
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When I talk to couples, I have a simple metaphor, which is that our relationships are kind of like houses that have a main floor and then a basement. Some of our more primal emotions and vulnerabilities and frailties and injuries are down there in that basement, stowed away in a quieter, more vulnerable place.
So with Nicole, I feel like this opportunity to go to L. This feeling that she has spent her 20s, as I recall, kind of searching for herself, and felt that she became a passenger as he was driving.
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And as she said in that scene with Laura Dern, she just got smaller and smaller. I think, for her, there was really this basement under this opportunity of having felt really lost herself, and felt really small and really lost her sense of purpose. And when he made a joke about [the TV-pilot offer] and its bad script or something offhand, that joke was something that really penetrated down into her emotional underground.
But those are the kinds of things that people come in [to my office] and communicate every day. Fetters: It sounds like this is the kind of thing that you often see in couples therapy, and instead, in this movie, they go to a divorce lawyer. Kerner: Exactly.
The impasses seem more irreconcilable. She was 20 or 21 when she met him.
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I probably would have drilled down a little more on their sex life, and maybe given them some sort of asment that helped them to intimately reconnect. I wondered about why Noah Baumbach put in the infidelity. So maybe it was like, Let me throw in something that really makes this more irreconcilable. Read: Educated Americans paved the way for divorce—then embraced marriage Fetters: What this movie really illustrated to me was that sometimes even when spouses want to part ways amicably and supportively, the technicalities of the American legal system can turn their divorce into a bitter, black-and-white, zero-sum kind of conflict.
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Kerner: Well, this divorce introduced not just a custody issue but a geographical custody issue. Money and custody can be big sources of contention. I think a lot of [whether a divorce is amicable or bitter] coupels has to do with the anger going into the divorce, and the extent to which kids and money are going to be used as Single Brookings hookups. When it came to the question of whether to move the family to L.
So even in the most egalitarian relationships, there are probably vapors of patriarchy. But in general we definitely saw a modern, egalitarian relationship, and one where they fouples have a lot of growth and support needs fulfilled.
Fetters: Do you anticipate that lots of couples will watch this movie and want to talk about it in therapy?