Couples Retreats in the Movies

Couples Retreat - The Movie. How well does it represent a real couples retreat?

We know that looking for a relationship counselor can feel like a huge task. If you're feeling overwhelmed about ever being able to get closer, we can help.  Our marriage and family therapists, psychologists, social workers and other mental health professionals have invested long-term in your wellbeing by being some of the most highly skilled couples therapy professionals available today.

Recognize that couples counseling is an evolving field, but we've come a lot farther in helping couples than popular media likes to portray.

Take a look at this clip of the therapy scene in the movie Couples Retreat between Ronnie and David:

It's funny to a couples therapist, and hysterical to the general public because we recognize the truth in the depiction. Horrifically, however, most viewers actually believe that some slightly less dramatic version of this scene constitutes actual "couples therapy."

View the clip and then let's walk you through it:

The therapist opens up the session by asking a general question: "So how was your night?" ignoring the obvious tension in the room. Ronnie, the wife, then goes into a 20-second "polite assault" on her husband. She's contemptuously talking about her husband being in "a very traumatic shark situation..." (To which her husband responds: "Here we go...")

She only indirectly talks about her disappointment in not having the romantic evening she was hoping for. She then falls back into contempt: "but somehow this crazy, traumatic shark experience was enough to make him neglect his wife."

Instead of stopping this display of contempt, John Michael Higgins, who plays Therapist #1, surprises the audience by saying:

Therapist #1:  "Ronnie, nice to meet you!"

...with obvious admiration for her candor.

She looks surprised. She knew she was being snarky but the therapist welcomed it!

And as if to add insult to injury, he turns to David and asks: "How did that make you feel?"

Contempt? How did contempt make him feel? How does he think contempt makes David feel?

Like it makes EVERYONE feel. 

  • Horrible. 
  • Defensive.
  • Misunderstood.
  • Trivialized.
  • Spoken down to.
  • Humiliated.
  • Exposed.
  • Disrespected. 

Just look at the look on his face. He's not even expecting the therapist to come to his defense, and in that, his expectations are spot on.

Does this happen in real couples therapy?


In a movie comedy, we laugh along, because we recognize ourselves in the scene. But in REAL LIVE SKILLED couples therapy, we stop the action when a spouse starts talking with contempt.


  • We stop the contempt
  • We define contempt. It's like "throwing acid on love" to quote one researcher
  • ...and we get them to talk about their own hurt and disappointment...instead of insulting their spouse.


In this case, Ronnie's profoundly disappointed. She was at looking forward to a romantic evening. Those hopes got dashed, but she had a role in that. She's hurt, angry, and neglected. But how she tells David matters. She can't do it in a way that  leaves HIM feeling attacked and horrible.

David's response was to justify his experience. (He was the butt of his friends' jokes the night before because of his terrified reaction to the crazy "challenge" they were all put through that day...throwing fish food into (harmless) shark-infested waters...

He said, defensively: 

     David: "I know my truth."

Why did he say that?

Because his sanity was questioned by both his wife, his friends AND NOW the therapist! 

Nasty.

Bad Couples Therapy Continues

Later, (in 1:52 of the clip) we see a fight between Joey and Lucy.  We assume its about sex and intimacy because they both act so sexually wanton toward other people in the movie. Lucy got pregnant with Joey's baby in high school which resulted in their getting married. Now neither feels desired by the other:

play


Joey: "So now it's my fault that you don't feel satisfied."

Lucy: "Everything is MY fault? Is that what you're saying?

Joey: "I'm not saying that..."

Lucy:  "You don't look at me. You don't EVER ask me how I am..."

Joey: "...You haven't looked at me in 10 years..."

Lucy:  (defensively) "...I'm crazy and everything is my fault and my family is awful (Joey nodes in agreement...) and nothing (waving her hands) at all is your fault...'cause you rock, Joey..."

     Joey now is hostile and escalated. He implicitly threatens violence.

Joey:  "If a guy talked to me like that, I'd punch him in the face..."

Lucy:  "Ohhhh...(chopping the pillow with her hand) You're such an a**hole!!!!"

Joey:  "You're an a**hole!!!!

And we see a shot of the therapist looking puzzled with her head cocked to the side. She looks slightly bemused as she writes a note down in her pad.

Again, if you believe this is what a couples retreat really looks like, no wonder we'd all want to stay away. Luckily, it's not.


What Real Couples Therapy Looks Like

In our blog, we spend a great deal of time talking about how necessary fights are between most couples, and how you can learn to improve a fight like this. 

  • We teach how the physiology of a fight raises blood pressure, creates pressure in your chest, narrows vision, contracts your ear canals, and, frankly, makes you stupider.
  • We teach how to stop the conversation when it degenerates in this way, and how to identify your physiology (and your partners...) when it does.
  • We teach you what it means to be "flooded" and "critical" and why it's a useless way of conducting yourself in a fight.
  • And why defensiveness ("So now it's my fault that you don't feel satisfied...") escalates a situation and is often provoked by a harsh start-up.


This is REAL couples therapy, with over 40 years of research, studying real couples in actual fights. Research measuring couples' bodily reactions as they fight. Following couples over time and noticing how communication patterns either enhance or destroy their intimacy. 

Then using this research to teaching you how to stay calm during upsetting conversations, and how to talk in your own marriage so your partner will listen.

Science-based couples therapy.
It's not as comical as in the movie "Couples Retreat" but it's proven effective.

Read more: A Fight About Nothing