Hollywood Psychologist on Reasons Why A-List Couples Fail

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Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner

With a slew of high-profile breakups recently in the headlines, Tamara Sprigel, Ph.D. in clinical psychology and licensed marriage and family therapist (with almost 30 years of experience as a relationship and sex therapist) talks about why marriages in Tinseltown often don't last.

I work with a lot of couples in all different fields in Hollywood. There’s a lot of individuality with these couples. One type of couple that I see a lot is where both people are artistic and creative, which means they have to be in touch with their emotions. As a couple, they are more right-brain, and, as a result, it makes them somewhat more vulnerable. They use their past histories for their work, so most of the time, they are working at a deep emotional level, whether they are acting or writing or directing. When you are both that in touch, it takes a lot of courage and strength as a couple to go through what therapy entails.They often come in tentatively. They know things are not going well, but their vulnerability makes them frightened of working on the relationship. They are usually very sensitive to the other person. The problems I tend to see with the creative couples is that they tend to avoid, not confront, problems. Avoidance is more common.

What I find with this population, once they commit to therapy, though, is that they are able to do deeper work; they are very invested in their relationships and want to go forward in a healthy manner.

Sometimes what happens is that they are so used to being "on" that the real person is kind of hiding. They aren’t fully expressing themselves to their partner. So the process is in bringing out the real people. They can come in thinking they really know each other, and they don’t.

Then there are couples where one person works in a more business capacity in Hollywood, such as an agent or a producer or lawyer, and the other might be outside of the business. Someone like an agent has much more of a tendency to want to control situations. It’s what they do in their professional capacities all day long — they are used to dealing with things on an intellectual level, where you fix it and go forward. They want to make themselves feel safe, and sometimes the agents aren’t as in touch with their own emotions. They are more in touch with what they think the other person needs to do. There can be a lot of criticism involved. The challenge with them is getting them to learn to listen from the other person’s point of view.

I think it’s a lot of work for Hollywood couples to last. People think that relationships come and go quickly in Hollywood, but I see so many couples that really work hard at staying together. They fight for their relationships. But there is so much temptation in Hollywood, and if they aren’t really in touch with each other, the real people that are there underneath, then it’s hard to stay together. They are very committed to their relationships, but what I find is that they are at a loss as to how to be authentic in the relationship. They often feel it’s safer for them to put their emotional sides into their work, even though it can be critiqued. Intimacy with another person is a much more frightening place. They think they know the other person, but sometimes neither of them is really expressing themselves.

Sometimes I get couples that really are going to separate, and they need help doing that.

The process moves forward when you create a safe environment to work on the issues and when the couple can uncover what was there to begin with and the real people who are underneath.

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