Rooms with a view on coupledom

Dr Drusilla Joseph reviews Scenes from a Marriage on Sky Atlantic.

It’s no accident that right from the start of Scenes From A Marriage, we the audience are invited to the ‘breaking of the fourth wall’; theatre terminology that denotes the separation of fiction and reality. In this case, breaking the fourth wall invites the audience to witness a crossover of reality and fictional worlds. It is beautifully and powerfully portrayed; a statement that whether it’s Jessica Chastain or Oscar Isaac (the actors) or Mira and Jonathan (the characters), in these worlds marriage remains the same. It’s about partnership, living the American dream, a means to an end, maintenance, raising a family, having equilibrium and making hard decisions.

The series follows the disintegration and aftermath of Mira and Jonathan’s marriage; through intense scenes where they are usually alone, the couple ignites the psychological concept of Johari’s window coined by Joseph Luft (1916–2014) and Harrington Ingham (1916–1995). Here we peer into four rooms or quadrants of ourselves.

Room one is ‘the part of ourselves that we and others see’. For example, Jonathan grew up as an Orthodox Jew and Mira is a mother. Room two: ‘what others perceive, but the subject does not’; such as Jonathan describing Mira as a big shot at her profession, or Mira stating if she had another child she could never leave. Room three: ‘what is not known to others but known to self’: where Jonathan’s asthma defines him, but not to Mira, and Mira being annoyed or irritated by being pregnant for the second time. And lastly, room four: ‘the unconscious (what is not known to others or the self)’: the lacklustre in identifying the religious undertone underneath their marriage.

In addition to this, the flickering of roles, position of power, attachments and love language styles this couple portrays also gives way to another well-known psychological theory that comes to mind – Transactional Analysis. Developed by Canadian psychiatrist Eric Berne, we move in and out of ego states every day by being a Parent, Adult or Child to each other.

For example, within the Adult ego state, Jonathan tries to be calm, level-headed, rationale and logical to save his marriage. Whilst within the Parent state, they both try and convince each other of their own perspective: Jonathan wanting to talk things through, and Mira wanting to go to couples counselling to separate. Mira beautifully demonstrates in the Childlike ego state; her repressed emotions and tantrums by crying and sulking to get her own way. This is demonstrated behaviourally by being stubborn, erratic, and rebellious. Jonathan, on the other hand, physically cannot let go of Mira in fear of what it seems like, separation or abandonment.

Underneath it all, Mira is controlling, truly lonely, in denial, detached, and is suppressing her internal pain. Jonathan seems self-loathing, co-dependent, lacks confidence, and is a people pleaser, who at times can’t share his truth or comprehend his internal world.

This makes you wonder are we truly ourselves in a coupledom? Can we express our full potential alongside another until the end?

Overall, a well written piece with wonderful acting; a must watch.

- Reviewed by Dr Drusilla Joseph, Counselling Psychologist in NHS & Private Practice.
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