Spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen Marriage Story, proceed at your own risk!
I grew up watching romance movies, like Pretty Woman, The Bodyguard, and Notting Hill. My love of love started young, and I believed in unwavering, unflappable love. Forever kind of love. It seemed that every story I watched on screen, although not always starting perfectly, ended in “happily ever after.” But what happens after that? In Noah Baumach’s latest film Marriage Story, we finally see an example of real life. Mirrored after Baumach’s own explosive divorce, the movie follows a married couple, played by Adam Driver (as Charlie) and Scarlett Johanson (as Nicole), and their gnarly separation. While the movie is ultimately about the progression and story of divorce, the movie doesn’t sugarcoat the reality of marriage: It ain’t always live, laugh, love. Marriage, well, it’s complicated.
My husband proposed to me when I was 24, just after 10 months of knowing each other. We got married a few months after that. At the time, I thought I was a mature, emotionally well-equipped adult to make the decision about forever. But the reality? I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
The first year of marriage was tough, and kind of felt like a science experiment—like putting two different species in a cage and seeing what happens.
At the time we got engaged, we lived in separate cities, had never lived together, and really didn’t really know each other all that well. I also still believed in fairytales and in the concept that a man would complete me, or rescue me like in my favorite movies. I had no idea how hard marriage could truly be.
The first year was tough, and kind of felt like a science experiment—like putting two different species in a cage and seeing what happens. We had no idea how to articulate our feelings or frustrations, never mind being compassionate towards each other about our own individual life experiences. Honestly, we spent most of our first year of marriage slamming doors.
Eventually, we acquired tools to help us manage our marriage, like therapy and learning things like “love languages” (an actual game changer in our marriage). We focused on improving our communication skills, and fast forward eight years, I can say it’s the thing I’m most proud of. We’ve been able to effectively communicate with one another, especially when shit hits the fan. And shit will hit the fan. It’s inevitable in any long-term relationship.
I was surprised after watching Marriage Story that I experienced somewhat of a breakthrough when thinking about marriage (the irony of watching a movie about divorce). The root of relationship issues, and the key to ensuring a successful relationship, wasn’t necessarily communication, as we’re so often told. The real enemy? Ego.
It was so obvious to me that Nicole and Charlie’s relationship’s demise was rooted in being unable to let go of their egos. For example, in their joint therapy session, Nicole is unable to list the reasons she loves Charlie, even though she has a long list written down. And Charlie has his own moments, plenty of them, like when he was unwilling to compromise or acknowledge his wife’s feelings when she was distraught about his one-night stand with a colleague.
The root of relationship issues, and the key to ensuring a successful relationship, wasn’t necessarily communication, as we’re so often told. The real enemy? Ego.
Even in my own marriage, I realize now, that whenever we’ve gotten into big arguments, or have inevitably gone through a rough patch, that the issue wasn’t necessarily found in a lack of communication, but more so in the fact that our egos were steering our ship. When our arguments reach their peak, you can usually find my husband and I in an imaginary courtroom, on opposite sides, each pleading our cases about how we’ve been wronged and how we’re right.
Through accumulated internalized beliefs about one’s personality, talent, and ability, ego is a structure our mind upholds to defend these beliefs. In other words, ego is our mind’s way of protecting ourselves. When we feel we’ve been wronged, or misunderstood, we resort to arguing, fighting, aggression, blame, resentment, withdrawal. These emotions are ego’s desire to protect ourselves, and it will ultimately steer every thought and word out of our mouths when not properly controlled.
Arguments are a collision of two ego battleships, unwilling to waver or understand the other, until they crash into each other and explode.
Ego has an interesting way of finding allies as well. In Marriage Story, the ruthless divorce lawyers, played by Laura Dern and Ray Liota, are like our best friends in real life—the ones who have your back, no matter what, but also, who won’t really tell you where you may have gone awry. Their loyalty knows no end, and they often end up validating what your ego is already feeding you—instead of trying to see both sides and providing insights on your own wrongdoings.
“Well, he needs to know you’re not going to put up with this shit” is a statement I’ve heard from most of my friends during vent sessions (and something I’ve too said many times). When venting turns to validation of ego, you’ve suddenly built your whole defense case in the span of two hours on the phone with your best friend.
Arguments are a collision of two ego battleships, unwilling to waver or understand the other, until they crash into each other and explode. And our friends, well, they’re often the fuel we need to fly our ship.
We don’t always have to be right, even when we are.
My husband and I’s own arguments usually end when one of us succumbs to love, and is able to put our ego in the corner, disarming the other party to surrender as well. Love is the antithesis to ego. Love forces us to be kind, compassionate, and understanding. Love demands we remove expectations and allow more room for self-awareness in its place. Love allows us to forgive without demanding an apology. We don’t always have to be right, even when we are.
What I loved about Marriage Story is that the movie didn’t have any distinguishable victims or villains in the film either. Instead, I found myself sympathizing for every party involved. I could see their needs, including their need to keep their ego intact—a failed protection that came from deep hurt and childhood wounds. Everyone has their reasons, but when you spend enough time overanalyzing the bad in someone, while simultaneously allowing ego to guide your actions, it can drown out all of the things you used to love about someone.
Through watching this movie, I learned that to solidify a long-lasting marriage, or a partnership, we need to continuously check our egos at the door. To not allow it to infiltrate our bedroom walls with resentment, blame, and anger, but to surrender to love, compassion and understanding. Love reminds me of the real enemy; my ego, not my partner. Love reminds me that we are on the same team, fighting sometimes yes, but also fighting successfully, together, to keep the one thing that matters most to us afloat: our relationship.