Thinking Fans Comment Update July 30: Kim wants Marlena and John to fall in love … Casey thinks John is having a middle-age crisis … but Angela thinks Carrie can help. See Comments below.
By Damon L. Jacobs
OK, Thinking Fans, Pop Quiz:
Which couple’s problems are most like the kind the Soap Shrink would treat during the day:
A. The Young and the Restless‘ Niki’s growing fears around David’s criminal background;
B. One Life to Live‘s Clint’s anger at Nora for blasting the truth about her ex-husband fiancé’s crimes in the middle of their wedding; or
C. Days of Our Lives‘ Marlena’s aggravation and disappointment that her husband John has permanently changed into someone she’s not sure she even likes.
What? Days Of Our Lives portraying a realistic problem? Does the Soap Shrink need treatment of his own?
Not so fast, TFs. Hear me out. Although it is not common for me to deal with brainwashed patients coming back from the dead, it IS quite normal for couples to struggle when one person has gone through a life altering change. If one person is happy with that change and the other isn’t, then there is potential for much sadness and resentment.
Marlena (Deirdre Hall) likes to refer to John as her “perfect love.” This is, of course, overlooking the 22 years they have spent dealing with mistaken identities, several episodes of amnesia, marriages to other people, comas, kidnappings, and one gnarly devil possession. In Marlena’s eyes, this seems to constitute a storybook romance.
So when John (Drake Hogestyn) got hit by a car and “died” in front of her last year, it pretty much set him up for sainthood in Marlena’s selective memory. Now, any Salem resident worth their salt would have known that John in fact had been kidnapped and brainwashed by the nefarious Stefano DiMera. All of John’s history was gleefully downloaded onto one shiny compact disc. Kinda makes you think twice about buying used CDs online, doesn’t it?
When E.J. helped Marlena find John alive and zombified in Stefano’s basement several months later, she was beyond elated. Here was her hero, her partner, her “soul mate,” returning to her from the Great Beyond. Only one problem: John had no memory of his life with Marlena. Worse yet, this John Black Version 2.0 was rather insensitive, potentially violent, and amusingly awkward in social situations. He had no interest in remembering his past with Marlena, much less reliving any of it.
He did, however, express some vague familiar feelings for his wife. For Marlena, this was simply not good enough. She made it clear several times over that he should be the man she loved before, not the man he is now. She believed he should love and honor her as he did in the past. Because of these rigid demands she has emotionally suffered greatly, as John is committed to going forward with his new life, not backward. It’s no surprise, then, that John is finding himself much more engaged with his new gal-pal Ava Vitali (Tamara Braun). As the latest Desperate Woman in Salem, Ava never met John before his accident, and therefore readily accepts and embraces him in the present with no preconceptions.
Seen as a metaphor, John and Marlena’s dilemma is quite normal. Both want the other to be someone they are not. Both have rigid “shoulds” about the other’s feelings and priorities. And when these “shoulds” conflict with reality, then both end up disappointed, frustrated, and angry. He wants to live in the here and now, she wants to live in the past, and this push / pull dynamic between them is hurting them both. Ava, then, is the classic third party player. From John’s point of view, she simply offers him acceptance, fun, respect, and friendship in the present — all things Marlena has denied him. Is it really so unreasonable that he would be attracted to someone who helps him feel good about himself?
On the Soap Shrink’s couch, Marlena would be encouraged to practice more acceptance of John in the here and now, and John would be educated on how to become more sensitive to Marlena’s trauma of his “death” and reappearance. They would both be encouraged to replace their rigid “shoulds” with open “preferences.” It is quite conceivable that these two individuals could navigate these problems together, but there is also a possibility they are simply not compatible anymore. Therapy would help them figure out their options in a way that honors their feelings for each other as well as their own individual integrity.
What do YOU think? Have you ever been in Marlena’s position and felt left out when your partner’s life has changed? Or can you relate to John, and felt like a loved one was holding you back from being yourself? The Soap Shrink wants to know!
Damon L. Jacobs is a family and relationship therapist practicing in New York City, and the author of Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve, to be published in September by Morgan James Publishing. Check out his new website, www.shouldless.com.