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Food and Lack of Love

In the romantic comedy HOPE SPRINGS, a wife, Meryl Streep, is dying to regain the intimacy she and her shut-down husband, Tommy Lee Jones, once had. Although she doesn’t have an emotional eating problem, she reminds me of many women who’ve taken to eating rather than pursuing love or change. All in all, an instructive film.

Not to be a spoiler, but Streep drags Jones to couples therapist Steve Carell. How many of you have tried or done that, only to have your partner refuse to go or drop out? Usually, but not always, the woman is the dragger and the man is the drag. If your partner won’t go, don’t give up—go alone. Remember, it takes two to tango: even if you’re not causing the intimacy problems, you can learn what to do about them. Eating is so not the solution. It hurts you and changes nothing.

In several scenes of the movie, Streep is desperate to say something to shake up the relationship, but keeps quiet. She eventually makes her move, though, proposing couples therapy. Often individuals, again, usually women, desire to speak up to their partners but keep silent. How many times have you done that or turned to food to stuff feelings down? Is this really how you want to live? If you have children, is this the problem-solving behavior you want to model for them? If not, speak up.

Therapist Carell dives right into the work, questioning the couple about intimacy and sex, discovering they haven’t had either in umpteen years which has produced a wedge between them. I have clients who haven’t had sex for that long and recognize the correlation between abstinence and heading for the cookie jar, but eat anyway. You deserve a satisfying sex life. Food is no kind of substitute for being touched or having great (or even okay) sex.

At times during discord between Streep and Jones, she assumes lack of intimacy is her fault, blaming aging or not having lost the weight she gained after her pregnancies. She could be any woman in the world blaming herself. Why do we always do that and when are we going to stop? She looks pretty darned good for any age and is a warm, fun, loving person, but it’s much easier for her/women to be down on herself/themselves than to point out the failures and flaws of partners and request or demand change.

See the movie and notice how Streep sticks with her agenda until she gets her needs met, inching along and moving forward. Women—and men—can learn a lot from her.