Couples Therapy Episode 9: Breaking Points

Couples Therapy is coming to a close with only one more week left this season, and while the group appears to have made immense progress in their own romantic relationships, the same can’t be said for how they’re getting along with one another. Joe and Abbey have already shown their distaste for Flav and Liz, and at the end of this week’s episode, Joe reaches a breaking point with Heather and Dustin as well. We spoke to Dr. Jenn Berman to discuss the highs and lows of the episode to find out more on that situation, as well as Abbey’s progress with her eating disorder and Catelynn’s struggles with her mother.

At the end of the episode this week, Joe and Heather were engaged in a fight and it felt like he was just trying to provoke Heather and Dustin by calling them names like low class white trash just to get under Heather’s skin and insult Dustin. I just wondered where that anger and animosity comes from. Why say such things?

At the time when all of this happened, I was offsite with Abbey doing the eating disorder exercise, and when I got the call that this had gone on, I was really bummed out to be honest. I’m not interested in things that distract from the therapy, and I think this is very hard for the viewer to understand how stressful it is to be in a house doing intensive therapy every day for weeks on end and living with strangers. Understand that this does not justify Joe’s behavior by any means, but I think Joe had reached a breaking point. It had bothered him about Dustin and the shoes all along. For whatever reason he took it personally and felt it was disrespectful to the process and to the therapy and chose that moment to make it an issue.

Getting back to the exercise you did with Abbey to help her get over her fear of food, you shared the fact that you also had an eating disorder. How does your experience with that affect your treatment of someone like her?

It makes it easier because it’s so not an issue for me now, it’s not anything that’s raw or vulnerable for me at all, and it’s something where I really understand where she’s coming from. It has really added to my depth as a therapist and a person in my understanding and compassion for other people and their struggles with these kinds of issues. I was thrilled to be able to work with Abbey on this issue. One of the really meaningful things about working with Abbey was that when I shared my experience and disclosed that I’m someone who’s recovered, she said to me, and I thought this was really profound, “I’ve never met anyone who’s recovered, I’ve only met people who are recovering.” There’s a lot of controversy about that in the eating disorder recovery world, there are two camps about that, and I believe you can be recovered. For her to see someone who has suffered and moved past it, it gave her hope, and I think it really showed her it’s possible to work through this.

It was great to be able to help her bring the pleasure back into food and have her be able to enjoy it. I have an app called No More Diets that’s based on my doctoral dissertation, and this exercise was based off of some of the exercises in the app, the viewer can basically do this exercise themselves without me, but be guided through it, and I was so glad she was able to do it and have such a great, healing experience. It was a real turning point for her.

When you returned home from the exercise, it felt like some of the comments Joe made to her when she was telling him about her progress were a little crass. Asking her if she threw up her lunch after she ate, even though it was in jest, seemed insensitive. Watching that, were you like “that’s just Joe”?

I was like, “Oh, Joe.” When he made the “Did you throw it up?” comment, I understood where he was coming from because that is his frame of reference with her, and at the same time, she needs encouragement. She needs positive support. It’s very tricky in a relationship where there’s an addiction or compulsive behavior that even though you want that other person to get well, at the same time, when that person gets well it changes things. Everybody in this kind of scenario has a little bit of ambivalence of “Oh, what happens if she gets well and strong and healthy? How’s that going to affect the relationship?” And I think that’s scary.

So in Catelynn’s situation this week, when she was addressing her mother, the thing that struck me the most was how she said her biggest fears were her mother dying, or that she might have to cut ties with her if necessary. I found that to be really impressive, that someone so young realized that that might be her only option.

Absolutely, I think she’s very wise and she’s been dealing with her mother’s addiction pretty much her whole life. Her relationship with her mom affects her relationship with Tyler dramatically, it affects her sense of trust, her care-taking, her anxiety about sharing difficult things. It affects her on a very deep level. Fortunately, her mom left us with information about after-care, AA meeting information, and all the tools she may need to work on it.