Last week, I went to a screening of “Hope Springs,” a movie in which an Omaha couple played by Oscar winners Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep seeks marriage counseling in a picturesque Maine resort town.
“Hope Springs,” which opened last night, is not your average light date-night movie, though the trailers make you think it will be. It's more of a dramedy, and it's full of insight.
My guest at the screening was Lindsay Novak, a nationally certified sex therapist with a master's degree in counseling. She blogs regularly on our LiveWellNebraska.com website.
You want some extra insight into a movie about marriage, trust me, take along a sex therapist.
“I liked the fact that the female character was the one who wanted improvement in her sex life, rather than the male,” Novak said. “Often the perception is that the male has the sex drive and the woman has menopausal issues or doesn't want sex.”
In Novak's experience, it's often the woman who initiates therapy, rather than the man because he's unhappy with the couple's sex life.
“Women are more comfortable discussing problems with others, whereas men tend to want to fix it on their own rather than reaching out for help,” she said.
“Hope Springs” is about a 31-year marriage in trouble, one in which the couple puts on a facade of happiness in public and barely touches or talks in private. They sleep in separate bedrooms.
“That's only OK if both people are OK with it,” Novak said. “But if one person has a problem with it, then it's not working — period.”
Interesting, I thought, mentally noting that both sets of my grandparents slept in separate bedrooms. My parents, on the other hand, made the bed together every morning of their 61-year marriage. I wonder if it was because they didn't think that separate-bedrooms thing was working in their parents' lives.
Novak also noted that sexless marriages are much more common than you might think. And it doesn't always take 31 years to get there. Newlyweds or people married for only a few years are not uncommon in her office.
Another note of authenticity came when Jones' character said this just before going into the first therapy session: “If he brings up repressed memories, I'm out of there.”
That's a legitimate fear for people, Novak said — the fear that there's stuff underneath the surface that they can't deal with, or don't want to deal with.
Steve Carell plays the movie's sex therapist, and Novak said the part is written very accurately. If you go to a therapist, she said, you're going to get direct questions about what you like and don't like sexually, what fantasies you have and much, much more.
Novak said that if you ever wanted to be a fly on the wall in a sex therapist's office, “Hope Springs” will pretty much take you there.
And if you ever wanted to see what a real marriage looks like, behind that happy facade, you're going to see that in this movie, too.
Best of all, if you want to prevent ever getting into that position, she said, you can learn a few ways watching “Hope Springs.”
“I think it would promote discussion, specifically about sex and intimacy,” she said. “It shows how therapy could help if a marriage really is struggling. It also normalizes what a lot of couples are truly going through.”
That moment in the movie when Streep's character says she doesn't want birthday and anniversary presents to be joint purchases for the house? (She: “I didn't want a water heater.” He: “Well, you needed one.” She: “You take showers, too.”) Novak has heard that one in her office.
And that moment when Jones' character reveals his anger that his wife may be frustrated now that he doesn't touch her, but she was the one who initially stopped wanting sex — “That is so common in relationships, where desire ebbs and flows throughout the course of time.”
Another common issue depicted in the movie: the wife's belief her husband no longer finds her attractive or beautiful.
So what was this couple doing right? They started to communicate and be honest with each other about what they wanted and what they had become very angry and resentful about, Novak said.
“And they changed up their routine. He did a really good job of making her feel special, something he'd stopped doing during the marriage. She allowed herself to be vulnerable and worked to increase her sexual self-confidence.”
And what did the makers of this movie get wrong in depicting marriage counseling?
“Nothing. They did a great job showing the problems, and that they both were responsible for the solutions.”