Saturday, October 30, 2021

Weird but Healthy: the Addams Family as Relationship Goals

The Addams Family has been a classic TV family for decades, and for good reason. Their strange sense of aesthetics and humor give us something to laugh at, while their genuine love for each other gives us something to aspire to. Strikingly, parents Gomez and Morticia don't have the dysfunctional dynamic many couples in the media do. Despite the stress and conflict they face, their relationship remains solid. So, how can we have relationships like Gomez and Morticia?

Dr. John Gottman is known for his studies on healthy relationships. He and his wife Julie have together created The Gottman Institute for teaching couples therapists how to turn the results of their research into real change for clients. One such tool is called the Sound Relationship House. The idea is simple: a secure partnership has a strong foundation, weight-bearing walls, and levels that the couple can build upon, much like a house. If we examine the structure of it, we can see that Gomez and Morticia have built these principles in how they live and love. Creepy and kooky as they are, the Addams' relationship house is a sound one.

"Gomez, last night, you were unhinged. You were like some desperate, howling demon. You frightened me. Do it again."

The foundation of the house is building love maps. Gottman uses love map to indicate one's inner world, and it's important to know these things about your partner. Likes, dislikes, passions, these are often the first thing you develop in a relationship as you get to know each other. Morticia knows that when Gomez is playing with his trains, it's because he's upset. Gomez knows that Morticia likes dancing with him. They know each other well enough that they can signal a request to the other and with only body language, the other knows what to do. They remember details about each other and each others' lives, like Morticia knowing about Gomez's childhood and him knowing her family.

"Woo her. Admire her, make her feel like the most sublime creature on Earth"

The next level is shared fondness and admiration. Gomez and Morticia make this very obvious, especially in the iconic 90s movies. They're every bit as passionate as you'd expect a young couple in love to be, even decades into their marriage. Morticia speaks French to Gomez, and he speaks Spanish to her (literal romance languages!). In terms of actual love languages, they show quite a bit of words of affirmation as well as physical touch, but they also spend time together and do things for each other (eg Gomez pulling out her chair when she sits). Importantly, these are ways they enjoy feeling admired. In the same way that Morticia would not enjoy being gifted a pastel pink dress, it's important to know if the way you express love to your partner is something that helps them feel loved in the first place.

"His trains are everywhere, the children are beside themselves... this can't go on. How can I help him?"

Of course, it's not all rainbows and butterflies -- or for the Addamses, darkness and moths. Things do get stressful, and when they do, healthy couples turn towards each other, rather than turning away (or worse, against each other). Gomez vents his frustrations about Fester to Morticia, and she attends to him when stressed. The Gottmans recommend having daily 15 minute stress reducing conversations to support each other, and we often see Gomez and Morticia not only having such conversations, but doing anything they can to help.

"What is he, a loafer? A hopeless layabout? A shiftless dreamer?" "Not anymore..."

For a couple of morbid types, Gomez and Morticia manage to keep things light and positive, even in the face of financial and familial difficulty. Couples in healthy relationships avoid criticism and instead see the best in each other. When Gomez is depressed, Morticia is empathetic. Even when Gomez is criticized for his unemployment, she thinks wistfully about how he's less of a dreamer than usual in his depressed state. You never see them criticize each other because they focus on the positive and give each other the benefit of the doubt.

"That glorious cruise. No quarrels. No cares. No survivors."

Conflict is unavoidable, so it's important to know how to manage it as a couple when it comes up. Now, we never really see Gomez and Morticia argue, and thus never really see them in conflict with each other. However, we do see them in situations that are likely to provoke conflict, and the ways they problem solve and get through the hard times. The Gottmans suggest three things: dialogue, self soothing, and accepting influence. Any conflict comes up gets discussed between them, and they have such deep love for each other that it doesn't turn into resentment. When they lose the estate and have to stay at a motel, everyone bands together and does their part. Morticia looks for work and lets Gomez self soothe through his depression. They don't ever disagree on how to tackle a problem, but there are times when each accepts influence from the other, and allows them to go ahead with something they have more experience in. Earlier in the same movie, they noticed when they felt in over their heads and decided to seek help. Morticia turns to grandma for help, and when that's not enough, they're okay with going to therapy for outside support. We see such little conflict between them that I couldn't really find a good quote for it.

"I'm just like any modern woman trying to have it all. Loving husband. A family. It's just... I wish I had more time to seek out the dark forces and join their hellish crusade."

As we reach the top of the house, we hit some of the aspirational parts of the house. Here we find making each others' life dreams come true. They encourage and support each others' hobbies and personal goals. When Morticia wants more time to herself after the birth of Pubert, Gomez listens to her vent, and is determined to find a suitable nanny so that she can spend more time on the dark arts.

“They're creepy and they're kooky, mysterious and spooky.”

The top of the house is where we have shared meaning. This is where we see something almost like a culture of two within the couple, consisting of everything from traditions to values. Family is clearly very important to the Addamses. They live with Uncle Fester and Grandma, and are very supportive of their kids. Strange as they are, they don't care what anyone else thinks, because this is what matters to them and what works for them.