In the film, As Good as it Gets, there is a magical moment when Melvin, a rude, obsessive compulsive, wreck of a character, played by Jack Nicolson (who else?), delivers this line over a meal at a fancy restaurant.
you make me want to be a better man.
As the collective hearts of women everywhere stop, the object of his affection, Carol, played by Helen Hunt, responds, That may be the best compliment of my life.
Well, maybe I overshot a little, Melvin says, because I was aiming at just enough to keep you from walking out.
With Valentines Day just two days away, that scene or some variation, underscores the messy, difficult and unpredictable business of trying to build and keep a loving relationship. For many couples, Valentines Day is less a celebration of love and more an unwelcome reminder of whats missing in their marriages and relationships. Flowers, candy and an expensive dinner may be a Band-Aid for a relationship on life support.
Part of the problem, experts say, is that despite ample evidence that couples therapy provides lasting benefits, most dont get help. In response, some South Florida relationship experts, particularly those involved with treating children, are developing alternative ways of helping couples develop more loving relationships.
The majority of couples dont seek any type of outside help, and that includes from clergy, from a mental health professional, from anybody, said Brian Doss, associate professor of psychology at the University of Miami.
Couples with relationship problems have a choice, Doss said. Heres flowers and a box of chocolates, lets just kind of pretend that everything is OK. What we hope they would do is use (Valentines Day) as an opportunity to recognize that things arent OK and to think seriously about what they can do to improve it.
Doss is working with noted relationship expert, Andrew Christensen, professor of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), on an on-line therapy process for couples, the first of its kind. Christensen and the late Neil Jacobson, professor at the University of Washington, developed Interactive Behavioral Couple Therapy (IBCT), and authored the book, Reconcilable Differences, a self-help book based on IBCT, which uses a number of different strategies to help couples. Doss and Christensen will publish a second edition this fall.
Through their study, Doss and Christensen will measure the effectiveness of the IBCT approach, including relationship and individual satisfaction and the impact of the process on children. They also hope their new website will make enough of a difference that couples will want to continue improvements.
The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development funded the five-year program. Doss said it took three years to develop a website that couples found user friendly.
They launched their site, www.ourrelationship.com, three weeks ago. Expert help for your marriage problems from the comfort of your own home, is its calling card.
Doss hopes to include 450 couples in the study. The couples will receive gift cards for their participation.
The our in our relationship is an acronym, Doss said, for observe, understand and respond. Couples fill out questionnaires individually and ultimately determine together what problem or problems they would like to work on, with a limit of two problems.