4 Lessons In Love At Any Age From 'The Kominsky Method'

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scene from the kominsky method
Love

Are you having trouble making love work, or can’t seem to go with the flow in your relationships?

Chuck Lorre’s two-season Netflix series The Kominsky Method has some lessons in love that can help.

These love lessons have two basic rules: Being totally present and paying close attention to the person in front of you. That’s The Kominsky Method, in a nutshell.

Is it easy? No. But with some effort, you can learn these lessons and improve your relationships for the better.

The show follows acting coach, Sandy Kominsky (played by Michael Douglas), and his best friend, agent Norman Newlander (played by Alan Arkin), who are 76 and 80 years old, respectively.

Their fears about love are universal.

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Here are the 4 lessons about love, at any age, that you can learn from The Kominsky Method.

1. If you like — or love —someone, don’t act like you don’t.

Acting nonchalant, not showing up when you say you will, and pretending you “could care less” doesn’t get you very far when it comes to love.

You may think you’re playing it cool or protecting yourself. Those kinds of behaviors hurt and are easily misinterpreted.

These are Sandy Kominsky’s mistakes when he falls for Lisa, a new student in his acting class (played by Nancy Travis). She’s the first "age-appropriate" woman he’s dated or married in years.

But you can blow it at any age. And, no, you don’t call a woman at 9 p.m. on Saturday night.

If only Sandy had gotten his priorities straight and asked Lisa out ahead of time. He can’t. He likes her, but won’t let himself. He’s been hurt and he doesn’t want to show he cares (not too much). 

Lisa’s been hurt, too. It’s not easy to catch your (now ex) husband in bed with his dental hygienist. She doesn’t take Sandy’s disrespect well. 

Yes, they’ve both been burned. But neither insensitivity or staying away from someone you like and, just maybe, could love gets you very far.

Sandy makes these mistakes almost one too many times with Lisa. Luckily, he doesn’t give up easily, in spite of his ambivalent fears, and he keeps pursuing her. 

Yet, there’s a lot for Lisa to forgive. Sandy “flakes out” on her in hurtful ways. 

For one, he talks her into being lovers against her better judgment: "We’re good together. I’m a big fan of the crazy stuff. But at the end of the day, I’d rather be with someone I truly like." 

A piece of advice, though: Don’t sleep with a vulnerable woman and then not call for a week: As Lisa angrily says: "All you needed to do was pretend to give a sh*t... Bye."

Sandy tells Norman Lisa dumped him.

"What did you do? I’m assuming it was your fault?" Norman knows Sandy’s history well.

"Maybe. She says I took her for granted."

2. When in doubt, ride the horse in the direction it’s going.

Sometimes, the best thing to do when it comes to liking someone, is to just "go with the flow." Give love a chance. Take it slowly if you need to, but don’t let your fears get in the way.

Norman almost does, when Madelyn (played by Jane Seymour) shows up in his life again unexpectedly. They dated before he met his wife. It didn’t work out, but there was love.

Norman’s grieving and lonely. His wife, Eileen (played by Susan Sullivan) just died from cancer. He has no idea how to go on:

"My wife who gave my life meaning is dead, my job doesn’t fulfill me anymore, and I just put my 45-year-old dope fiend daughter in rehab for the eighth time."

Life can be very sad. And, well, Norman needs a little rehab, too, and some help towards recovery from his loss. He needs some hope.

Madelyn also lost her husband. They have a lot of things to share. But Norman balks. Isn’t it too soon? He’s afraid and he feels guilty.

What does Sandy tell him?

"When in doubt, ride the horse in the direction it’s going."

Sandy’s better at giving advice to his friend than to himself. If only he could do that with Lisa. Can he?

Whether you’re young or old, getting stuck in the past is not a good idea. Sure, you may need to talk or cry about it.

But, be ready to go forward. Open yourself to a new experience. And, if you make a mistake because of your fears, saying you’re sorry goes a long way.

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3. Make amends and own your mistakes.

Admitting when you’re at fault makes your loved one feel safe and understood. We see many examples of making amends in most of the main characters in The Kominsky Method.

Sandy has to apologize to Lisa many times before he gets it right. Norman works hard to make it up to Madelyn when his anger at his daughter, Phoebe (played by Lisa Edelstein), almost scares her away.

The past can interfere. Madelyn’s husband was rageful. Sandy hasn’t been considerate to his loved ones, especially his daughter. 

Norman’s daughter, Phoebe, lived with his angry outbursts as a child and, for many different reasons, became a drug addict.

So, Phoebe makes many amends to Norman (and at her mother’s grave) for the damage her drug addiction did. But Norman must apologize to Phoebe, too.

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It takes facing the past to get to the other side. Loving someone can be healing if you take responsibility for what belongs to you.

And, Sandy Kominsky has a lot to face. He hasn’t been a reliable dad and his daughter, Mindy (played by Sarah Baker), needs him; has always needed him. Yet, the way she keeps his love is to take care of him and clean up after his “messes.”

It takes a lot for Mindy to finally put her foot down, reclaim her life, and for Sandy to realize that his daughter has saved his skin over and over again — from ruining his reputation and almost losing his acting studio to IRS debt.

His “sorry” to Mindy is a big one. He gives her ownership of his Sandy Kominsky Acting Studio: "Taking people for granted is my character defect, especially those that give a damn about me." Sandy now works for her.

The truth is better than fiction when it comes to seeing yourself clearly and loving someone else.

4. Tell the truth.

Emotional honesty is one of the hardest things in love. It feels very vulnerable to reveal what you feel if you’re afraid of losing the person you most want to love you. But, you’re more at risk of losing them if you don’t.

If you’re scared, start with not lying to yourself about your feelings before deciding what needs to be told. Then, open up with what’s most important to say. 

In teaching The Kominsky Method, Sandy knows that an actor can’t portray a character well unless he feels it. Yet, he runs away — fast — from his own feelings.

Facing your feelings is one of the most important things in life and love — and maybe the most difficult. Take a risk.

And, communicating your feelings clearly gives you a chance to be understood, to not hurt someone else, and to work things out before it’s too late.

No, it’s not easy. As Norman says: "I’ll tell you what it’s like to be human. It hurts. Being human and hurting are the same damn thing." 

Being human is much easier if you’re not alone. That means facing your past and the way it interferes, not running from love, and saying you’re sorry when you need to. 

In the words of The Kominsky Method: "The whole point is to dig into your feelings and see how it translates into actions you take." 

Your actions speak louder than your words.

Be present - with yourself, your feelings, and the person in front of you. See them.

That’s how you’ll know your actions speak the language of love. 

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Dr. Sandra Cohen is a Los Angeles-based psychologist and psychoanalyst, who specializes in treating childhood trauma, persistent depressive states, and all types of anxiety. For more information, visit her website.