Week 1: Love Over Time

[wlm_private_Relationship Success Course]

The Story of Us

Director: Rob Reiner
Producer: Rob Reiner, Alan Zweibel, Jessie Nelson
Screenwriter: Alan Zweibel, Jessie Nelson
Stars: Bruce Willis, Michelle Pfeiffer, Julie Hagerty, Red Buttons, Rob Reiner, Paul Reiser, Betty White, Rita Wilson
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 1999
Released on Video: 02/15/2000

RENT ONhttp://www.imdb.com/title/tt0160916/?ref_=ttpl_pl_tt

Movie Synopsis

Ben (Bruce Willis), a writer and Katie (Michelle Pfeiffer), a crossword puzzle editor are a married couple with two children who have concluded, after 15 years of marriage, they no longer love each other. They take the period while their kids are at summer camp to try a separation, during which discuss they discuss their situation with their respective friends, and reflect (through flashbacks) on their original meeting, the highs and lows of their married life, and their attempts to reconcile their relationship with various therapists. During this period, Ben tries to write a history of his Grandparents long and happy marriage, and Katie begins a friendship with her divorced Marty, who wedding has ended.

During Parents Weekend at camp, they attempt, with limited success to put on a happy face while their kids are around. Their evening at a local hotel leads to a remembrance of their failed last attempt to rekindle their romantic feelings, and on the drive home they agree to seek an amicable divorce.

After Ben moves out, he and Katie argue with mutual friends about the cause of their relationship ending; Ben is upset that Katie can never be spontaneous; Katie is frustrated by Bens lack of planning and preparedness. Ben attempts to reconcile, but discovers Katie cooking dinner with Marty in their house.

Ben & Katie agree to tell their children about their planned divorce after picking them up from camp. During the drive, they both reflect on the totality of their relationship, both the happy and angry moments. After picking the kids up, they realize that, despite all the anguish, they still love each other, and commit to living mostly happily ever after.

Viewing Suggestion:

Watch how Katie and Ben struggle for a long time but eventually find a way to make their relationship work. Notice especially how they struggle with poor communication and differences in their temperaments.

Ask Yourself:

– Do you believe that you cannot make your relationship work because you are too different from your partner?
– Are your able to communicate better than Katie and Ben?
– If not, how could you improve your communication?

Communicating well helps you to “step into your partner’s shoes” and therefore understand and empathize with him or her. Empathy helps to bridge many difference in your personalities.

Week 1 Coaching: The Four Horsemen


For anyone who has been following my blog, read any of my books, been to see me in clinic or seen me (and Joe Whitcomb) on stage, you will hear us talk about the work of Dr John Gottman, and his principles. Why? Simple. Gottman has spent his life studying couples and has enough data that he can predict if a couple will divorce 93% of the time just by watching them communicate for a few minutes or less.

So on Week 1, I would like to start your re-education in communication by providing you with a strong foundation about each specific communication style. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is a metaphor depicting the end of times in the New Testament. They describe conquest, war, hunger, and death respectively. Dr. Gottman uses this metaphor to describe communication styles that can predict the end of a relationship.


The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work 

The first horseman of the apocalypse is criticism. Criticizing your partner is different than offering a critique or voicing a complaint! The latter two are about specific issues, whereas the former is an ad hominem attack: it is an attack on your partner at the core. In effect, you are dismantling his or her whole being when you criticize.

Complaint: “I was scared when you were running late and didn’t call me. I thought we had agreed that we would do that for each other.”

Criticism: “You never think about how your behavior is affecting other people. I don’t believe you are that forgetful, you’re just selfish! You never think of others! You never think of me!”

If you find that you are your partner are critical of each other, don’t assume your relationship is doomed to fail. The problem with criticism is that, when it becomes pervasive, it paves the way for the other, far deadlier horsemen. It makes the victim feel assaulted, rejected, and hurt, and often causes the perpetrator and victim to fall into an escalating pattern where the first horseman reappears with greater and greater frequency and intensity.

The second horseman is contempt. When we communicate in this state, we are truly mean – treating others with disrespect, mocking them with sarcasm, ridicule, name-calling, mimicking, and/or body language such as eye-rolling. The target of contempt is made to feel despised and worthless.

“You’re ‘tired?’ Cry me a river. I’ve been with the kids all day, running around like mad to keep this house going and all you do when you come home from work is flop down on that sofa like a child and play those idiotic computer games. I don’t have time to deal with another kid – try to be more pathetic…” 

In his research, Dr. Gottman found that couples that are contemptuous of each other are more likely to suffer from infectious illness (colds, the flu, etc.) than others, as their immune systems weaken! Contempt is fueled by long-simmering negative thoughts about the partner – which come to a head in the perpetrator attacking the accused from a position of relative superiority. Contempt is the single greatest predictor of divorce according to Dr. Gottman’s work. It must be eliminated!

The third horseman is defensiveness. We’ve all been defensive. This horseman is nearly omnipresent when relationships are on the rocks. When we feel accused unjustly, we fish for excuses so that our partner will back off. Unfortunately, this strategy is almost never successful. Our excuses just tell our partner that we don’t take them seriously, trying to get them to buy something that they don’t believe, that we are blowing them off.

She: “Did you call Betty and Ralph to let them know that we’re not coming tonight as you promised this morning?”

He: “I was just too darn busy today. As a matter of fact you know just how busy my schedule was. Why didn’t you just do it?”

He not only responds defensively, but turns the table and makes it her fault. A non-defensive response would have been: 

“Oops, I forgot. I should have asked you this morning to do it because I knew my day would be packed. Let me call them right now.” 

Although it is perfectly understandable for the male to defend himself in the example given above, this approach doesn’t have the desired effect. The attacking spouse does not back down or apologize. This is because defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner.

The fourth horseman is stonewalling. Stonewalling occurs when the listener withdraws from the interaction. In other words, stonewalling is when one person shuts down and closes himself/herself off from the other. It is a lack of responsiveness to your partner and the interaction between the two of you.  Rather than confronting the issues (which tend to accumulate!) with our partner, we make evasive maneuvers such as tuning out, turning away, acting busy, or engaging in obsessive behaviors. It takes time for the negativity created by the first three horsemen to become overwhelming enough that stonewalling becomes an understandable “out,” but when it does, it frequently becomes a habit. 

Being able to identify The Four Horsemen in your conflict discussions is a necessary first step to eliminating them, but this knowledge is not enough. To drive away destructive communication patterns, you must replace them with healthy, productive ones.


1. Practice, practice, practice!

2.Pay close attention the next time you find yourself engaged in a difficult conversation with your partner, a friend, or even with your children.

3. See if you can spot any of The Four Horsemen, and try to observe their effects on the people involved.

[/wlm_private_Relationship Success Course]