When my husband and I went to see Hope Springs, we were the youngest in the theater by at least 20 years. Clearly, we were not the target demographic.
The movie centers around Kay (Meryl Streep) and Arthur (Tommy Lee Jones), a couple who have just celebrated their 31st wedding anniversary. Theirs is a painfully hollow relationship where the passion is as dried up as a mummy, with husband and wife sleeping in separate rooms. Kay’s attempts at intimacy are rebuffed by Arthur, leaving the audience simultaneously chuckling and cringing at the painful awkwardness. In a drastic move to save her marriage, Kay books them both for a week-long marriage session with Dr. Feld (Steve Carell) where they begin to unpack the hurt, the fear and the neglect that has brought their marriage to the brink of destruction.
While this may be a movie geared towards our parents, there are 3 Important Truths to be gleaned for our own marriages, whether just starting out or yet to begin.
1. Sex matters. At every stage.
The most obvious problem in Kay and Arthur’s marriage is their total lack of a sex life. For some of you, that’s proof as to why you don’t want to get married. Why tie yourself to someone forever, only to have the fun killed, the passion sapped and in general, stop liking the very person who was meant to be your best friend and greatest lover? No thank you.
The misconception there is that marriage kills sex in a relationship.
It gets pushed to the bottom of the list by more ‘important’ demands like work, family, and to-do lists that never seem to quite be finished. Your libido may go through seasons and even decrease as you get older, but sexual desire is important for any marriage to stay healthy and vibrant. It’s a critical way to build intimacy and a sense of connectedness between a couple.
Sex in a marriage is a barometer of how your marriage is doing.
Stress, frustration, anger, insecurity or fear between a couple will show up in the bedroom. When sex in our marriages begins to suffer, when we can’t remember the last time we had it or we find ways to avoid it, then it’s time for an honest look at what deeper issues are driving this. And it’s time to take the necessary steps to restore that intimacy, whether that means being transparent about our insecurities and hurts or cutting back on other commitments so as to have time and energy.
2. It takes two to kill a marriage
For much of Hope Springs, it seems that Arthur is completely to blame for the demise of this marriage. If only he had been more sensitive, more observant, less stingy, less self focused, more emotionally available, [insert other standard reason we often hear]. Without giving too much away, we come to realize as an audience that Arthur was not the only one who played a role in the marriage becoming what it did.
When a marriage gets to the point where it seems beyond repair, it can be tempting to point fingers, to see the fault as lying solely at the feet of the other spouse. Whatever we might be blamed for certainly wasn’t intentional! They, on the other hand, gave up, stopped loving or simply couldn’t cut it.
But it takes two to tango.
And most often, it takes two who stop working every day to keep their marriage transparent, two who allow small hurts to fester into gaping wounds, and two who choose more often to walk away from their spouse rather than towards.
You do not have control over how someone behaves but you do control how you react.
It’s easy to play victim without realizing the incredible power we each hold in a relationship. By withholding sex, by speaking only harsh words or total silence, by avoiding even the smallest efforts at affection, we wound our spouse more deeply than we might have intended. These play on our insecurities and send us running to our sides, drawing up our bridges and mounting a full on defense. Rather than fighting beside our spouse against a common enemy, we have turned our spouse into the enemy.
3. Fear is not your friend
The problem is not that Kay and Arthur don’t love each other, it’s that their love is so guarded behind the walls that they’ve built up that it can no longer be expressed in a healthy way. Their fears of being rejected, of possibly failing in trying to do things differently, and of not knowing wanting to admit disappointment all keep them from experiencing sexual and emotional intimacy. This is especially true for Arthur who chooses for much of the movie to go to bed with his fear rather than his spouse.
How many of us have allowed fear to hold us hostage by:
Staying in a job that daily kills a piece of spirit rather than risk leaving for a new venture?
Sweeping frustrations under the rug rather than face possible conflict in a relationship?
Staying in a relationship long after it was time to leave because they might be the only one who would ever take you?
We mistake fear for common sense, believing it’s what keeps us from having our expectations dashed, from being hurt by disappointment or rejected because we’re not ‘enough.’
But what we think is protecting us is only further adding to our pain, our isolation, or our feelings of inadequacy. We lose sight of the real problem, choosing to fight other people rather than our fear.
From where you’re standing, these may seem like problems that only happen to ‘other’ people and won’t affect you and your spouse (present or future) because you’ll be different, your love is real, strong, or whatever else you want to say to delude yourself. The truth in Hope Springs is that this can happen to anyone who doesn’t work at their marriage daily. And the beauty is that it’s never too late to redeem that relationship and bring back a passion you never thought possible.
What do you think is important to a successful and long-lasting marriage?