Psychology; Diagnostic and Treatment of a Couple Therapy, based on the movie: “The Story of Us”;

The Chicago School of Professional Psychology- Los Angeles, California

By : M. Azad Moradian

Editor: Cklara Moradian

The purpose of the following article is to help graduatethe-story-of-us-poster.jpge and undergraduate level students in the fields of psychology, social sciences, and/or film be able to have a model of how to look at a movie from the perspective of their fields of study and write a paper utilizing their knowledge.
In the following papers movies are analyzed, interpreted, discussed, and ultimately criticized a way that is very specifically related to academic understanding of psychological subjects, which is a different way of looking at film than the traditional way. We hope that you can find the following helpful and we will appreciate your comments as well as any submissions that you might have that could be published in this category

Diagnostic and Treatment of a Couple Therapy, based on the movie: “The Story of Us

azad_moradian_0907.jpg In our analysis of a married couple’s struggles and how the different approaches to couples therapy can help resolve conflicts and allow for healthy and enriching relationships, the married couple in the film “The Story of Us” will be examined from two different therapeutic models. The two chosen models for this paper are the Developmental Model Therapy approach and the Emotional Focused Therapy approach. These two models were chosen because they seemed to fit best with the issues that the couple in the film were facing, and allow the therapist for a clear understanding of the behaviors and patterns that the individuals are displaying, as well as a clear roadmap for .healing
Diagnostic and Treatment of a Couple Therapy, Based on the movie: “The Story of Us


The Story of Us (Can a marriage survive 15 years of marriage?)
Director: Rob Reiner
Writers (WGA): Alan Zweibel & Jessie Nelson
Main Actors: Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer
Release Date: 15 October 1999 (USA)
Genre: Drama
Universal Pictures (USA)&Castle Rock/Warner Bros. (non-USA)

Overview of the movie:

“The Story of Us” is perhaps one of the very few Hollywood movies that realistically depict the roller coaster of a marriage in a sincere, touching, and yet often humorous fashion. It reflects the trials that a couple often have to overcome in order to hold on to each other and to themselves. The majority of the film takes place during a summer, 15 years after Ben and Katie Jordan first get married, two children later, at a time when the qualities that first attracted them to each other have brought them to the breaking point. The movie also looks at Ben and Katie’s past through a series of flashbacks, and gives the audience a picture of the relationship dynamic that has led them to that summer when they feel they might no longer be able to continue the marriage. Ben and Katie’s marriage seemed to have been falling apart for many years prior to that summer, and the film showed their attempts at solving their issues such as sessions with several couple therapists, trip to Europe, and a trial separation. This movie ends on a good note, where both Katie and Ben feel that they have a history bides by love that they do not want to let go of, but that they certainly have many issues that must be dealt with in order to live relatively peacefully together. The “moral of the story” might also be a way for the movie to give the viewers ideas that they might be able to use in their own lives to better their own marriage and/or relationship. Ben learned to have more toleration in dealing with Katie, and Katie learned that she cannot force Ben into changing and molding him into who she wants him to be, and she ends up accepting him for who he is. She learns that life is not an ordinary institution and a simple puzzle. Ben learns to find more similarities with Katie, spend more time with her, and have more respect for her feelings. It seems that they are able to agree on disagreeing, and agree about their desire to stand out as unique individuals. They choose to spend more time talking about opposite sides of issues. The family has a method of communication, which can be a great model for other families. Every day the family sits down to talk about their “High” and “Low” for the day in which way they learn to listen actively to each other without judging one another.

If Ben and Katie were to be referred to a therapist who would to look at their relationship from a Developmental model approach he/she would look for the following background information:
Most of the couples’ communication would end by fighting and/or disrespecting each other. Katie explains this by saying that “fighting has become the condition rather than the exception of our lives (Reiner Rob, 2001)”
Their action and reaction to each other seem to have a pattern of behavior, which we could relate to the partner’s childhood development. Those childlike behaviors finally become a pattern as well as the meaning of their communication.
Could their childlike behaviors be showing a regression of a specific stage of their childhood development? Is their marriage influenced by their childhood experiences?
Developmental model of couple’s therapy is helpful to find out, current level of development and the experiences of each partner.
Based on most of the dialog during the movie, flashbacks to the past, and our understanding of the couples’ relationship, we are able to find the correlations and parallels between family-of-origin and current time interactions between partners.
Ben, a first and only child, has his assumptions about marriage and relationships. An attractive young and famous writer, it was not easy for just any woman to get him. When he first meets Katie, he feels that she “just got him through an instant connection”. He has his own ideas about life and marriage, an unrealistic image of marriage and relationships. Ben states that he has always imagined life to be like this “Two people meet, fall in love and then 50-60 years later one of them dies and then a few days after that the other dies because it just can’t live without each other (Reiner Rob, 2001)”. His love story looks like his writing; it always should have a happy ending.
He did not have any experience of early childhood frustrations or either he denied them in his private life before marriage. His understanding of his parents was; a couples that lived together for long time, and they have learned to cover their conflicts through humor, and who do not express their disagreements in public.
Ben’s experience of life was reflected in his marriage. He had his own values and morality based on his prospective of man and women intimacy. He believes in manpower and that a man should be the decision maker in his marriage.
Ben’s early childhood experiences with conflict resolution and passive-aggressive parents as a role models shows that he does not have enough skills for problem solving as an adult and for when he is faced with a family conflict in his relationship in his current life.
After years of conflict, huge disagreements, therapy sessions, and a few shocks such as a trial separation, living in a hotel for a few weeks, and seeing his wife with another man, it looked as though he was able to identify the differential world of man and women, and the reality of marriage relationships. There could not be a happy ending if you do not build it and constantly continue to work on it.
Katie, who is obsessed with role and order, likes having everything in its place. She met Ben, when she was working temporarily in a shared office, designing crossword puzzles. Katie likes a small page of puzzles, with simple words and questions, which she is able to take care of unlike the complicated world around her. She is not able to challenge herself with thousand of things in her personal life. She has no clue what the marriage relationship looks like. Life is beautiful if the puzzle is easy enough and it all fits.
However, having two kids, taking care of all their needs, taking care of a big house, a privet business, friendships, and the important parts of a marriage, satisfying her husband as well as the sexual intimacy of the relationship felt like too much to handle.
Katie feels that Ben and she have been apart for more than 10 years. Her husband does not listen to what she says, and her husband does not have respect for her ideas.
After so many years of arguing, disagreeing, and fighting, she feels hopeless, feels that she cannot change her husband, and wants to give up.
Their marriage relationship gradually becomes too stressful, meaningless, and too much hassle on her mind and feelings of insecurity, anxiety as well as her obsession compulsion worsens to the point that separation becomes the only easy answer to the crossword puzzle of her life.
Like Ben, Katie also does not have enough experience in her childhood background to solve life’s conflicts. Her role model, her mother, Dot, was always judgmental. She learned to solve the issues of life by criticizing others.
Based on the above facts, and the Developmental method therapy, our assumption will be that Ben and Katie are not in the same stage of childhood development stage, and they are not fixated in the same stage of the developmental method of relating.
The important part for us is to find out what combination of couple’s stage they fit into.

Climate of the relationship:
The majority of the exchanges between Ben and Katie and the communication within the dynamic of the relationship are hostile and resentful. Fighting is not an uncommon sight.
The one very clear difference between the couple is that although Ben has been criticized a great deal by Katie, and he is helplessly searching to find peace in their relationship, he still wants to be in on his marriage. He wants to forget the past and start a new chapter in his life, like one of his novels. Katie on the other hand feels that there is no way out. Katie complains that Ben is always “Harold” in their relationship, and she never gets to draw with the magic purple crayon.
Couple’s Body Language:
Our observation indicates that the couple is able to play games and make their relationship look good when they are among others, especially in front of their children. They always try faking a good relationship. Katie, who has obsessive-compulsive traits, does not like to accept shortcomings in her relationship. Failure of her marriage makes her more insecure. In reality, they have been apart for a long period. Katie does not remember when she and Ben made eye contact with each other last. It seems Katie’s early childhood experience with her mother is projected onto her marriage relationship.
During the few flashbacks of therapy sessions, it showed the couple sitting together side by side, with a positive interaction with the therapists.

Method of the diagnostic:

The film was able to give us some information about each individual’s history, which revealed each couples psychodynamic backgrounds, as well as the different experiments they have made in their experiences.
During the film, all of the dialogs and conversations between the couples are very helpful and revealing, which the therapist should use as a tool to intervene for the couple’s therapy.
One of the questions that were answered by Ben and Katie during the film was that they were going to therapy because “they could not find the qualities that lead them to marriage (Reiner Rob, 2001)”. Katie was confused about the marriage relationship. She felt that she has no hand in her personal life.
Ben believes that, his wife does not take his needs seriously, and he is always being criticized for what he is doing, essentially who he is. He feels that he never receives positive feedback. Ben feels that everything that he is doing is wrong and/or it is not enough in his wife’s opinion. It seems that most of the complaints are not focused on both of the partners. Ben and Katie have been living together for about 15 years, but Katie feels that they have been apart for more than 10 years. Although they have lived together, they have been emotionally apart.
Ben feels they should get back together, their marriage is not over, and they are able to start again. At some point during the separation trial he says to Katie “Isn’t this the moment when one of us is supposed to say ‘this is ridiculous, we love each other, all couples go through this, let’s give this another try (Reiner Rob, 2001).”
When Ben met Katie for the first time, he felt an instant connection, the simpatico, and that is why he felt that “she just got him”, and for Ben it was the greatest feeling in the world at that time. Ben found Katie attractive and sexy.
Katie was looking for a man to complete her uncompleted part of life. For Katie marriage was a question mark, which needed an answer. She also found an attractive man with patience and a sense of humor.
Similarity and Differences: Ben and Katie have the same circle of support, same close friends and relatives, who get together on different occasions. Both partners are very caring parents. They both manage helping their children enjoy their free time. Both take their children to school, sports, and spend quality time with them.
Katie’s obsession compulsion leads the most significant difference aspect of their lives. It seems that her attempt to change Ben’s patterns about his easygoing life style has failed. Ben feels that he is more comfortable doing activities away from Katie, because of her judgments and criticizing tendencies.
In an overview of Ben and Katie’s relationships, we recognize that she is perhaps displacing anger at her mother onto Ben.

Diagnosis of the Couple relationships:

The current developmental stage for Ben and Katie, before the last episode of the movie is Symbiotic-Differentiating, with hostile-dependent level for Katie’s Symbiotic stage of developmental couple relationship.
Beginning of their relationship, and “in an instant connection” they were delighted by their similarities and warmed by the sameness they shared. There were a great deal of passion and mutual giving and receiving during the beginning of their relationship. Honeymoon, Sexual attraction, childbirth, and all the enjoyments of attraction are the first stages of Symbiosis. Gradually, however, the request for change demanded by Katie, due to her obsessive-compulsive traits made it easier for Ben to move on to the next stage, Differentiation, but for Katie it was too difficult to move on from symbiotic stage to the next stage. Katie fixated on the hostile-dependent system, which is dominated by anger and conflict. The definition of this stage is almost a behavioral opposite feeling, terrifying to end the relationship, and not mature enough to end the battles. Ben was able to move on to the next stage, because of his easygoing personality. He is not too focused on details, and has a more positive approach on the marriage relationship.

Treatment and recommendation:
Therapist with the developmental model approach should focus on the couple relationship and build trust. In the beginning, we should say our intervention might reflect on the couple’s independent feelings. We have to make sure that they understand our method of intervention. The communication between therapist and partners make the session safer for therapeutic environment.
Katie will most likely demand change in the relationship system, and she will be requesting Ben to change his behaviors, his patterns and habits. Ben is more likely to accept the fact, due to the fact that he is willing to save his marriage. Therapist should help Katie support Ben’s change and let her know how childlike behaviors are reflected onto their current relationship.
Katie feels anxiety with a huge responsibility around the housework. She feels that she has not received any compliments from Ben for all she is doing for the family. She feels like she is invisible.
Indirectly Katie is stressed out that she needs to find out her self again, she lost herself years ago, and she needs to spend intimate time on herself. She shows her feelings towards Ben through temper tantrums, criticizing, and nagging. Therapists at this situation will focus on the external autonomous change. It is hard for Ben to understand Katie’s feelings as a distinct person.
The next step for therapist should be working on the Creating a Future Focus with both partners. Ben is ready to move on and start again, which is a big step for the couple. The partners have a good foundation, both financially and love, they are willing to move on and they have two loving kids, helping them to focus on the plan. Therapist should work with the partners on building their future. The couple should compromise on the amounts of time and effort they spend on their mutual relationship.
Katie might also want to be referred to psychiatric services, due to certain structural deficits seen in her case, which she might need to address through individual therapy and a psychiatric evaluation adjacently. This could also help Katie ease her discomfort with her obsession compulsion and her symptoms of depression.

If Ben and Katie were to be referred to a therapist who would to look at their relationship from the Emotional Focused Therapy model approach he/she would look for the following background information:

In a short overview of the couple’s relationship, we can see a number of reasons Ben and Katie need Emotional Focused Therapy. These include, but are not limited to, a lack of communication, disagreements over priorities, and disproportionate household responsibilities. These issues are mostly about the quality of the couple’s marriage. The partner’s feelings about their marriage are influenced by their daily relationship. They have simply pretended everything in their relationships is fine; therefore, they have not received any natural support from their friends and family. Katie is clearly frustrated with Ben’s behaviors, but she is not able to communicate in an appropriate way. Ben is not satisfied with Katie’s behaviors, her anger, temper tantrums, and their private intimate relationship, but he fears expressing his feelings in order to prevent Katie’s overreaction. The story of them should be rewritten with the help of a therapist. Based on the background of the family, rapid intervention should is necessary to change the negative dynamic of the couple. Emotional focused therapy is able to focus on a positive drive to change the couple’s relationship.
As the Dr. Susan Johnson says ” Emotion is the music of the attachment dance; changing the music rapidly reorganizes the partners’ interactional dance” (Johnson, 1998).
In addition, the high intensity, as well as the feelings of distances all needs an intervention therapy based on an existential approach in order to change the couple’s feelings about the relationship’s meaning.
Although Katie believes that the relationship has been meaningless for more than 10 years, the general understanding is that they have enough reasons to benefit from Emotional Focus Therapy. Ben and Katie care about their marriage, their children, and the foundation that they have built during the 15 years of marriage. A therapist is able to help them both feel better about themselves and each other as well as teach appropriate ways of expressing feelings.
Emotional Focus therapist is able to bring back the love to this couple’s life.

Process of the EFT Model:
The therapist will lead the sessions in following three stages and nine steps:
1.”Cycle de-escalation”: Through this stage and all 4 steps, therapist will assess the couple’s relationship in order to help Ben and Katie uncover all of their negative and harsh feelings, emotions, and anger towards each other. Identifying the negative actions and reactions when each partner is expressing those negative feelings. In this stage, the therapist is supposed to create a safe environment, where each partner is able to review his/her version of life story to the therapist. It is crucial that the couples begin to trust the therapist in this first step. Katie seems very upset with the way Ben is acting; therefore, she generalizes Ben’s responses to the marriage. In this stage therapists will help couples to uncover all their hard feelings, resentments, blaming and anger.
More than likely Katie will be expressing her feelings about Ben’s private relationship, which bothers her a great deal. Ben might talk about their intimacy and how Katie does not respond well to his request to make love all the time, because she needs to be emotionally satisfied prior to any sexual activity.

2. “Restructuring or changing interaction Positions”: This stage includes steps 5 through 7. The therapist focuses on one partner in steps 5 to find out any individual emotions, angers, feelings, which act or react within the couple relationships. Any individual patterns and habits, which may have a role on the couple dynamic. Therapists will focus on Katie’s criticizing, blaming, and nagging towards Ben and help her to soften her patterns to express her feelings towards her husband and marriage. The therapist is able to acknowledge that most of Katie’s feeling come from her obsession compulsion and her unrealistic feelings about the marriage. In step 6, the therapist will switch focus to the opposite partner and address his patterns based on the information that is found from each individual. Ben needs help gaining cognition about the ways he is failing to communicate with Katie or how he can be more constructive. Katie needs more compliments and positive responses to what she is doing for the family, and Ben has to understand Katie’s limitations on a daily basis about the household responsibilities. Step 7 will be a couple session, which the therapist will discuss the couple dynamic and how the individual’s needs are able to affect the couple’s relationship. In this step, each partner should be able to express their feelings toward each other without any harsh feelings, and anger, exactly the same way they did with the therapist.
3. “Stage of consolidation/ integration”: In step 8 and 9 the therapist will help the partners restructure their patterns in positive ways. Therapist will help them “paint a picture” of how they can be different as a couple but their emotions and feelings need to take care of it. The therapist will help them to find a positive solution to their old problems.
Alongside EFT, Katie might be referred to a psychiatrist to follow up with her symptoms of depression and obsessive-compulsive tendencies, if these do continue to hurt her development and personal relationship.

– Bader, E. Pearson, P. T. (1998). A developmental model of relating, In Quest of the mythical mate New York: Brunner/Mazel, pp.1-16
-Bader, E. & Pearson, P. T. (1998). Diagnosing the couple’s stages, In Quest of the mythical mate New York: Brunner/Mazel, pp. 17-42
-Bader, E. & Pearson, P. T. (1998). Treating Couples in a developmental model.. In Quest of the mythical mate New York: Brunner/Mazel, pp. 43-61
– Collins, R & Collins L, How Therapists Can Help During Divorce, The Therapist V 18,I 6, Nov-Dec 2006
– Gladding, Samuel T. (2007) Family Therapy: history, theory, and practice, Fourth Edition, Pearson Prentice Hall. Pp. 23,112-114,118-122,247
– Gottman’ J. M. (1999). The assessment of marriage, In the marriage clinic,New York: W.W. Norton& Co., Inc.
-Johnson, S. M. (2006, Sep/Oct,). Are you there for me? Psycho therapy Networker, pp. 41-45,52,53,& 70
– Johnson S. M. (2004). The field of couple therapy and EFT? In The practice of emotionally focused couple therapy (2nd ed), New York: Brunner-Routledge
– Johnson, S. M. (2004). The basics of EFT, In the practice of emotionally focused couple therapy (2nd ed), New York: Brunner-Routledge
– Reiner Rob (Director). (2001). The story of us, Movie . United States: Universal Pictures (USA)&Castle Rock/Warner Bros. (non-USA)


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Posted on September 9, 2010, in Article, English, Psychology/روانناسى\روانشناسى and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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