If you think you're going to see Hope Springs just for a romantic comedy, think again. Although Steve Carell brings a sense of humor to his role, he plays a pretty serious and direct couples' therapist. This movie is a story of a 31 year marriage that has become stagnant, sexless and is heading toward dissolution. There are moments that will make you laugh and others that will bring a tear to your eye if you realize this is the state of too many relationships. So why should you bother seeing this movie?
As an AASECT certified sexuality educator and counselor who is also trained in PAIRS, a program that teaches practical skills for emotional literacy, the overall lesson I take from this film is that the things not said in a relationship can be more damaging than the things that are said. Many of us learn if you can't say something nice then don't say anything at all. Or as Tommy Lee puts it, there are some things you shouldn't say because once they are out of your mouth you can't take them back. While there are sparks of wisdom and truth to these beliefs, the strategy of silence proves, more often than not, destructive.
For a relationship to survive and thrive the PAIRS program teaches participants to share with each other the following:
words of appreciation
new information from your day
what you are wondering about (i.e., I'm puzzled as to why you weren't yourself at dinner tonight?)
complaints with specific request for change
wishes, hopes, and dreams
what you are mad about
what you are sad about
what you are worried about
what you are glad about
This list is largely based on two exercises in the PAIRS essential program; the Daily Temperature Reading that keeps the lines of communications open, and Emptying the Emotional Jug that provides a structured way to vent negative emotions in order to allow positive, loving feelings to surface.
As a sexuality counselor I would add sharing new sexual activities and behaviors you would like to try. I may be biased but I believe if we do not directly address our sexual needs and desires in a relationship we will fall short of attaining our full potential for happiness in our intimate lives.
A word of cautious realism. If you're not skilled in the art of difficult conversations you should only delve into the potential painful or hurtful areas after learning the most productive way to do this via a program like PAIRS that teaches intimate relationship skills or with the guidance of a qualified relationship expert. So if you love your partner but are no longer sexually attracted to them; if you've had an affair and want to come clean; if you cannot stand seeing your partner watching TV, immersed in social media or playing FarmVille when you think they should be out looking for a job or doing something more constructive; or if things are so bad that you are already thinking about divorce, get some help expressing yourself so that your sharing doesn't backfire on you.