On the Soap Shrink’s Couch: Days of Our Lives’ Marlena Evans and John Black

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.

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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 Marlenahas permanently changed into someone she’s not sure she even likes.

ANSWER:  C

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!

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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.

Comments

  1. Kim says:

    This could have been a beautiful love story for John and Marlena. I wanted Marlena to fall in love with this John and for him to fall in love with her. There of course would be obstacles along the way but they already have plenty of those with the erased brain and John being the polar opposite of his previous self.

    Unfortunately, Days has an unimaginative hack of a writer who wouldn’t know a love story if it bitch slapped her right across the face. The sooner Dena Higley is gone the better!

    Damon says: But in this way, Kim, I think John and Marlena’s struggles are being played out realistically. Higley, possibly without realizing it, has set up a more grounded portrayal by having them NOT immediately fall in love with each other. They may ultimately find their way back together, but they’re both going to need to change by practicing more acceptance and fewer “shoulds.”

  2. Casey says:

    John is like the classic middle-aged man who decides his wife, his family, his past, is labeling him as something he doesn’t want to be anymore. So he dumps them all and picks up with the little girl who’s looking for a daddy he met down at the bar and buys a fancy new car and ends up alone and forgotten until he dies of prostrate cancer.

    Damon says: Well, okay, then Casey. It seems you also can identify how this story is being played out as a metaphor for a very realistic and unfortunate dynamic. I don’t see John being afflicted with prostate cancer though, not while Stefano and Dr. Rolf want him around!

  3. Angela says:

    Yes, there’s personality changes! Yes, there’s going to be friction. However, I think that Marlena can bring him back — and while we’re on the subject….

    WHERE’S CARRIE? John and Carrie had a great bond and if anyone could help Marlena bring him back I believe it would be Carrie.

    Never mind the fact that John died and Carrie wasn’t there! What was that all about? Every immediate parent that Carrie has had (Roman/Anna/Marlena/John/Tony/Kate) are in town and she’s in Switzerland with Will and Austin.

    After what Lexie did to her, do think that Carrie would stay away and not fight Lexie being made COS? Not likely — considering what she’s been through with Sami!

    Bring Carrie home! She can help Marlena get John back, help get Tony and Anna back truly together, and help Sami with her man woes!

    Damon says: I don’t know Angela, Carrie didn’t do such a great job of helping couples stay happy in her last go round, especially not Sami! I do think Robo John would find her irritating, and it would be amusing to see him stand up for Sami against Carrie. Ultimately Marlena and John would need to commit to changing no matter who is around them.

  4. Cindy says:

    I enjoy John very much these days. He’s fun and he is funny. I’d like to see a story where he acknowledges that he like who he is now and that he is aware of who he was previously and does not want to return that again. The combination of innocence and fun is enjoyable for me.

    Also, I thought Ava was a breath of fresh air on the show and the actress was marvelous. As far as John and Marlena, I like them as a couple, but I do wish that Marlena would accept the NuJohn, and at risk of offending, loosen up a bit herself.

    John, Marlena, Bo, Hope, Steven and Kayla always lived in the gray area when they were young. Daytime not only does an injustice by sweeping characters over 40 off the canvas, they do an injustice by putting a stick up their butts, rather than allowing them to be multi-layered. John is fun, he has layers and I’m enjoying him.

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