Couples Fighting & the Movie Before Midnight

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This movie offers a glimpse of real life in the fighting between Ethan Hawke & Julie Delpy after 20 years of being together. In the first 6 to 9 years there is a lot of catering that goes on in the name of love. Then the illusions fall off & there is more work that goes into the true infrastructure of respecting the differences.

Fighting is a part of any authentic relationship after 6 years because the differences start to bang into each other. Only in the beginning is love all about the mushiness of being clones & catering. Then developmentally there comes a time where you bail to stay in the mush with someone else or you do the hard work of learning to meet in the middle.

I was in a master class at Chautauqua with the author Margaret Atwood (7/24) and she talked about the problems of life being in the extremes & how important the middle is….it made me smile to be validated by someone I so admire.

Ethan Hawke is a writer & lives in Paris to make his partner happy. The movie opens with him in an airport, saying goodbye to his son who lives in Chicago. He is clearly suffering with the pain of not living in the same country as his son. He begins to wonder about moving back to be near by which is a normal thing to wonder about….

Unfortunately his partner is completely ordinary & reacts with tons of defensiveness when he brings up the possibility. She has been offered a new job that scares her but she finds herself upset with even the idea the job could be yanked out from under her.

This is what happens in real life. We are so quick to react defensively that we erase any opportunity to meet in the middle to explore ideas and we don’t hear each other out. She is threatened by the idea & shuts down the conversation; this is what people do.

It’s as if only one person can be heard because only one person can win.

Couples are too often caught in the trap of: it’s either you or me. Dialogue where each person shares their truth is very rare. Truth can’t be hoarded until you feel entitled to one giant ugly dump.

In the movie the hurt & pain linger in the air between them….it is so palpable & burdensome that words are extinguished. The conversation stops because someone walks out or someone is absent emotionally. This is the norm with arguments because energy is closed off not open.

The movie demonstrates exactly what is required to continue the conversation after the uglies. He finds her sitting at an outdoor table & she hardens at his approach.They begin to talk & you watch her begin to melt her defenses & open up.

It’s this very crucial moment of softening that is exactly what restores hope the relationship will survive after all. So when you find yourself crossing your arms in defensiveness, thinking & saying ugly hurtful things try really hard to find your ability to soften up to hear another point of view.

It’s so easy to harden yourself against someone who loves you simply because you don’t like what they’re saying because you are determined to stay right & not be vulnerable. A couples therapist tries to wiggle into that softening & vulnerability at every opportunity. There is always merit to both points of view which can clearly be seen in the movie.

The extremes of hardening or constant submissiveness are what defeats longevity in relationships. Ethan Hawke says “I just want to talk about it.” She shuts him down “She’ll never give you 50% custody & it’s not worth the move to only have every other weekend.” Instead she could be courageous & vulnerable by saying “I don’t believe it’s worth it because it scares me to lose my new job.” If she owned her fears the conversation could continue.

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