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Real couples sigh as they compare what they hear in romantic movies with their own relationships, thinking they do something dreadfully wrong. Their mistake lies in comparing themselves to a carefully honed script. Relationships are inherently messy and immensely complicated.
In THE LOVEBIRDS, Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae are ready to discard their long-term relationship as hopeless. They frequently talk over one another, disagreeing about details of whatever they’re discussing. Their personalities are vastly different. They wonder if someone else would make a better partner. And then the trouble starts; they’re pulled into a murder.
The murder mystery is a convenient, if annoyingly slapstick, framework for viewing the lovebirds. The real meat of the film is the relationship itself which could have been written to examine the evolution of connection, especially with the talents of the lead couple on hand. I nodded with long-term couples everywhere as we recognized the pitfalls and, at last, the rehabilitation of a relationship worthy of preservation.
When I was teaching Interpersonal Communication (sometimes known as one-on-one communication) in college, other faculty members insisted haughtily that they already KNEW about interpersonal communication. EVERYONE had studied it in college, and they knew about it before that! Of course, the very people who were most irritating telling me I was teaching something utterly obvious were often the ones who had a history of dysfunctional relationships. Relationships are inherently messy even if you can anticipate hazards and have the skills to cope. After studying conflict resolution options, my students were placed in unscripted conflict improvisations they had to talk their way through in front of the class. Disrespect, dishonesty, and violence were strictly forbidden. Class members who had observed the interchange were graded on their written insights of what did and did not work and how realistic the confrontation was and why. The students were delighted to discover direct, real-world applications of course work. Thereafter, I was encouraged (not by the students) to return to a curriculum based on a standardized textbook selected by the state featuring multiple choice questions as assessment. One of my more experienced students told me she wished every member of the faculty had taken my class. It helped her open a fresh relationship with her daughter.
Our view of conflict in relationships is often on a slapstick or comic book level. Why? Because conflict resolution operates most effectively when the parties involved have compatible goals. Whether in the apartment, board room, or floor of Congress, they have to WANT to resolve the conflict and improve the relationship. Today we frequently witness conflicts in which the participants harbor immensely disparate hidden agendas—power being a popular motivator. Dishonesty degrades communication into a game of manipulation and makes a mockery of relationships.
I don’t offer my husband and me as models, even after these many, many years together. We echo the exasperation illustrated in THE LOVEBIRDS when we’re tired or frustrated or discouraged. Actually, an ability to work through those bumps and worse proves we understand a basic truth: we like one another and choose to stay together, so we forgive over and over again. Recognizing a human need for honest connection is an essential ingredient of good relationships and a healthy life.