Reviewed Books & Films

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Romance Gone Bad...But Why?

APA The popular film Blue Valentine is an engaging and interesting drama that explores the vicissitudes of a romantic relationship, times when it is going well and vibrating with excitement, periods when it is languishing into a downward spiral, and those mundane experiences somewhere in between. In her review of the film, Karen Conner notes that there is a paucity of research that explores the origins of those emotional dynamics that lead to early divorce (e.g., stonewalling, defensiveness, cynicism). In this vein, she poses some interesting questions for viewers/readers to consider, including the following: What happens to a relationship when one partner is in romantic love and the other is not? Under what circumstances does such a relationship survive and thrive, or devolve into one of wounding accusations and bitter disappointment?

Read the Review
ReviewThe Love That Wasn't
By Karen Conner
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2012 Vol 57(4)


Atlas Chan

A happy marriage is one of the important elements for our well being (Franz, McClelland, & Weinberger, 1991). What does marriage based on? Loving someone or wants to be love or other practical reasons? It is not uncommon for people to get marry because of unexpected pregnancy all over the world. Some of them were living happily ever after and some don’t. It may be an expected outcome for Cindy and Dean based on their background that they were both hungry for love. What would happen if two beggars begging each other for food? It is a sad movie but an insightful one.

Franz, C. E., McClelland, D. C., & Weinberger, J. (1991). Childhood antecedents of conventional social accomplishment in midlife adults: A 36-year prospective study. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 60(4), 586-595. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.60.4.586

Karen N. M. Lee

Couple relationship is complex. It sounds like a mystery to a lot of people that couple relationship could develop into different direction. Dean and Cindy in Blue Valentine had a romantic relationship at the beginning even though it turned out to be full of disappointment, anger, and sadness. Why does it happen? Why a couple could have so different views and feelings to each other at the beginning and the end of their relationship? According to Emotional Focused Therapy, a secure attachment is essential to a strong couple relationship that both partners should be able to accept their own emotions and needs, as well as being honest to each other. Can Dean and Cindy be able to accept their own needs and emotions? Does Dean being pushy and needy in the relationship with Cindy represent his attempt in restoring a sense of security in the relationship? Does it mean the same for Cindy to highlight her needs in setting boundaries in the relationship? According to attachment theory, an individual would use particular 'working models' (Bowlby, 1973) of relationship learned from early experiences in contemporary relationships. Would Dean and Cindy have different perspective of their needs in relationship if they have a better understanding of their 'working models' of relationship?

Bowlby, J. (1973). Attachment and Loss (Volume 2) Separation. London: Hogarth.


This movie recalled my experience with a couple clients. They married 4 years ago, like most of couples they had great time at the first year but starts arguing since the second year of marriage. They argued everything about work, life, birth planning, family and external affairs. The wife was being referred to the counseling center due to depression. She suspected her husband has mistress and no longer love her, so she tried to kill herself in order to “punish” her husband. After individual session with both parties, the husband has reported his wife was no longer caring, lovely but rather, replaced with distrust and emotional. The wife has similar background like Cindy, from a family with criticism and conflict. So she has a high expectation towards her own marriage which placed great pressure onto herself as well as her husband.

According to individual growth and development theory proposed by Stair, childhood experiences are the essential source of self-identity. Dysfunctional communication in family deeply affects its member. (Satir, 1972) Indeed, the negative impact of self-identity and distorted communication style severely affect how people deal with stress. Cindy and my client both came from dysfunctional communication family and they presented an incorrect way to deal with stress/ problem. I strongly agreed with Satir’s point of view on family therapy which pointed out everyone has the inner resources to deal with family problems. And as therapist, our responsibility is to helping client interpret their own feeling, understand the origin of the problem and assist them to cope with the problem.

Couple relationship is not only about love. It involved communication, learning, appreciation, commitment and respect. Love and romance are uncountable and there is no way to measure how much love should be given in each romance relationship. As human beings we had all priority inside our mind and somehow we didn’t aware of it. Personally, I believed commitment and communication are keys to maintain a healthy relationship.

Satir V.M. (1972). Peoplemaking. Palo Alto, CA: Science and Behavior Books.

Kenny Luk

When it comes to the romantic relationship, it is impossible to have a formula that relationship can survive and even thrive under what circumstances. However, I do believe that trust and mutual respect are one of the millstones of a healthy relationship.

Firestone (2012) illustrated six practical tips for maintaining an everlasting relationship. She encouraged couple to experience joyful experience and moment together. Having a sense of humor can keep your relationship fresh and longer.

Secondly, when a couple was in an intimacy, they should try to keep an open mind to experience new things (Firestone, 2012). Your relationship would become even stronger if you did not limit your partner to engage in things which they were interested in.

In addition, Firestone (2012) recommended that besides holding back your love, you had to show your love appropriately by giving a lovely hug or simply having an eye contact. Expressing your love in an appropriate way could keep your love novel and exciting.

Furthermore, be yourself while respecting your partner during the relationship was necessary in maintaining a long lasting relationship. You could appreciate your uniqueness of your partner while accepting the short coming of him or her (Firestone, 2012).

On top of that, trying to be open to your partner’s feedback was vital to overcome the hard time of your relationship. You could try to put your feet into your partner’s shoes to empathize with his or her feelings when conflicts occurred (Firestone, 2012).

Ultimately, you needed to be generous not to calculate and not to strive a balance in a give and take relationship. Instead, you could appreciate what were already given to you and what your partner had done for you.

As previously alluded, maintaining a healthy and long lasting relationship was not an easy task. Having a positive attitude in relationship was necessary if you wanted to have a happy relationship in your life.

Firestone, L. (2012). Six Tips to Keep Long-Term Relationships Exciting. Retrieved 19 October, 2013 from Psychalive, Website:


I have recently found an interesting article that discusses attachment styles of its relation with adult romantic relationships.

The article investigated 374 undergraduates through questionnaire measures of attachment style, self-esteem and other measures. Moreover, according the study, the attachment style was related in theoretically expected ways to attachment history and to beliefs about relationships. As the study’s hypothesis suggested, securely attached relationships are reported to have more positive perceptions of the relationships. Whereas, anxious ambivalent subjects had a more negative perception. Therefore, the study gives a theorical approach that offers an attachment perspective on adult romantic relationships.

However, i agree with the blogger above that there isnt one formula for what a successful relationship is because some aspects and methods used by a specific relationship cannot be transferable to another. Therefore, this question is really open-ended as every couple might find different coping methods to their problems and find different happiness that would make their relationship work.


Attachment style as a predictor of adult romantic relationships.
Feeney, Judith A.; Noller, Patricia
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 58(2), Feb 1990, 281-291.

Adrian Mark

Living together as couple is an art. It is never easy at all. Both individuals need to acquire lots of intelligence, patience, stability of mental status and other qualities of love to be able to put two separate lives under the same shelter.

There are stories of three very different couples found on the new paper to share with you:

A woman called herself ‘W’ who went through gender alternation surgery at a public hospital and attempted to marry with her boy friend, but refused by Hong Kong's marriage registry. She challenged the decision and eventual won the right of marriage at the court of final appeal. The current Hong Kong law barred the transsexual woman from marrying her partner is unconstitutional.

A Hong Kong couple were sentenced to prison and are being jailed for just over 3 years (wife) and 5.5 (husband) years for torturing their Indonesian maid. Over a two-year period, their Indonesian maid was forced to wear diapers, whipped with a bicycle chain and scalded with a hot iron on her face and arms. The police investigation report listed the crime including abuse, sexual harassment or even physical assault and working 12- to 16-hour days and being on call 24 hours a day.

A gay couple consisting of a 51-year-old American and a 49-year-old Australian-born Italian married for 10 years having an adapted young son (age of 9) from the U.S. But Hong Kong government does not recognize same-sex marriages. Every 6 month, the Australian needs to get out of Hong Kong and come back to maintain his stay in the territory. Classmates of the boy keep asking why he has 2 fathers, and he replies “It's just fun having two dads”. The family lives in Hong Kong happily regardless of difficulties, but only the boy and the American father can apply for permanent residency.

The consensus between 2 individuals in the couple seem dominate the personal view and all other values. The couple is capable of making extra ordinate decisions regardless the situation. A couple seem to commit events and happening that they would not when acting alone. Is it dangerous? Or this is the phenomena of “2 become 1”?

BBC News China, May 2013, Hong Kong Couple Sentenced for Torturing Maid

The China Realtime Report, September 2013, Hong Kong court supports transsexual right to wed

South China Morning Post, Oct 2013, Gay marriage hurdles put happy family to the test


In Chinese, there is a phrase saying that it is easy to get along with someone, but is difficult to live together with him/her. Love is really a fascinating topic that it involves a lot of beauty, sweet, romance, happiness, support, and at the same time a lot of jealous, disappointment, irritation, criticism. In the review, it points out the critical reason for the marriage to come to the end, that is the foundational difference of their primary based in the decision of the marriage. In the film, Cindy wants to marry because of being pregnant and Dean wants to achieve the love and belonging.

In the reality, for the couples to keep the romantic love healthy, it is very important for them to share some similar core value of the relationship. Marriage is definite, but everyone perceives marriage and the relationship very differently. It is just like in the communication, before talking about the efficiency of information delivery, it is more important to make sure a common language is used.

Also, in the film, in the final 36 hours of their marriage, Dean is critical, attacking and demanding and Cindy is defensive avoidance. These coping stances in the relationship are very hurtful. A psychologist, John Gottman, suggested that there are four horsemen of apocalypse in the romantic love. They are criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. For the criticism, people used to attack the other and to generalize the specific fault to the problem of the whole person. Contempt is to intend to insult the other and they try to attack the esteem of others by certain body languages and vocal tones. Defensiveness is to rejecting other’s comment and usually deny even the comments from others are true. They are not opened to discuss and make comments very personal, and they might counterattack when they cannot defense anymore. The last one is potentially most hurtful, the stonewalling. Unlike the above three, stonewalling is to set a boundary that others cannot touch his or her heart. The icy response shows the coldness and emotionless. The message they are trying to send out is that you are no more important to me and I won’t even feel anything from you.

These coping styles are corrosive to the romance between couples and the better way is to have a communication with acceptance from both and to tell the true feelings of the self in congruence.


According to Robert Sternberg, the triangular theory of love, there are three component which are intimacy, passion and commitment. The most complete love was consummsate love which has all the three elements. I believed that prefect couple should have maintain all the three component in their relationship. For lovers, romantic love with passion and intimacy was dominated, if they are able to build the last component that is commitment, probably they could get married. However in the film, the love of Dean and Cindy is fatuous or more likely an empty love, there is no much passion or intimacy. Cindy was rather selfish and immature in dealing with her romantic relationship. She don't really love Dean, she is only using her as a shelter. For Dean, he was full of desire for love and family. This two people would never make a prefect couple. They should not even get married. Marriage is not a meant to solve problems like unexpected pregnancy, run away from home or gain financial support. In my opinion, the only reason to get married is love. Some girls in Hong Kong rush to get married because they don't want to be the "left-over" woman. This was not respecting the term marriage.

According to the publication of Hong Kong federation of women's center, the number of divorce case has been significantly increase in Hong Kong from 2062 in 1981 to 18167 in 2010. As a counselor, I have handled a few cases which were planning for divorce. Client's main problem was lost of passion and intimacy in their relationship. Client or their spouse complained that the relationship was so "boring" . There was no psychological communication and time for intimacy. Due to the increasing amount of stress in working environment, negative emotions and argument filled up the small flat. In this situation, I would advise my client to build a positive couple relationship following the model of Gottman sound relationship house model. This model describe a elements of a sound relationship. It includes create shared meaning, works together to make life dreams come true, skills for managing conflicts, learn to see each other in a positive perspective maintain positive affect, turning towards each other instead of turning away, share fondness and admiration and build the love map to understand one partners inner psychological world. These strategies was very useful in forming a positive, flourishing and trusting long-term relationship.

Elliot Aronson (2008). The Social Animal 10th edition. Worth Publishers. Chapter 8.

Vagdevi Meunier & Wayne Baker (2012). Positive Couple Relationship: Evidence for long lasting relationship satisfaction and happiness. Positive relationship Chapter 5.

Olivia Hwang

The author states, "Although we can point to emotional dynamics such as these as being associated with early divorce, what has not been explored in the literature is why these dynamics may begin in the first place. What happens when one partner is in romantic love and the other is not?"

John Gottman's "Love Lab" examined factors that contributed to happy and unhappy marriages and found that couples fit into either the "masters" group or the "disasters" group. He found that "disasters" were physiologically more active as they were in the fight-or-fright mode. On the other hand, "masters" were warm, connected, affectionate, and had lower rates of physiological arousal. He also discovered that couples can either "turn toward" or "turn away" from their partner, which contributes to the health of the relationship. He also talks about the importance of exercising kindness towards your partner on a daily basis, and to be generous about your partner's intentions, which contribute to lifelong happy marriages. He states, "you could think of kindness as a muscle. In some people, that muscle is naturally stronger than in others, but it can grow stronger in everyone with exercise. Masters tend to think about kindness as a muscle. They know that they have to exercise it to keep it in shape. They know, in other words, that a good relationship requires sustained hard work."

The article can be read here:

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Editor of PsycCRITIQUES

Danny Wedding, PhD

Chair of Behavioral Sciences,
College of Medicine,
American University of Antigua

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