Have you ever seen the magic behind movie magic? It’s actually not all that magical looking. My neighbourhood is a popular site for movie and television productions. The streets are regularly lined with the many trucks and trailers that are required for shooting footage. There are thick bundles of cords lining the sidewalk, cranes, scaffolding, lighting, and people wearing headsets and carrying clipboards, alternately looking bored or frazzled. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes.
But this isn’t unique to film productions. Every successful venture has WAY MORE going on behind the scenes than we know. Every athlete who makes it to the Olympics (and many who don’t) has had YEARS of behind the scenes prep (and the athlete’s parents). Every best selling author has put in gruelling hours, behind the scenes, at a keyboard. Every band that is labelled an ‘overnight success’ has had long days rustling up gigs and long nights lugging their own gear.
At The Nook, I get to see behind the scenes in people’s lives, and how incredibly hard they work. Sometimes to survive (literally), and sometimes to thrive. All of us have a ‘behind the scenes’ story. Yet just like in the movies, it’s not obviously visible. My private practice began in Stouffville, a (then) small town north of Toronto. Sometimes between clients I’d pop on over to Sharon’s for a haircut. She has an adorable shop right in her home on Main Street, complete with a barber’s pole. This salon was straight out of Steel Magnolias; she even has the old school hairdryers you sit underneath. Because it was a small town, everyone knew everyone else, or thought they did. It was interesting being an observer, listening on the fringes as women poured out their heart and soul to Sharon. They talked about their relationships, aging parents, illness, and highs and lows with their kids.
Of course, there was also talk of people’s business. Whose marriage was on the rocks, who had a few too many chardonnay bottles in their recycling bin, and which friends had a falling out. Whose kids were flunking out, and who had been caught doing something they shouldn’t. As a therapist in town, I knew many of the people they were talking about, and my lips were sealed. I couldn’t pipe up and say, “Ya, you know why she seems edgy? It’s because as her mother was dying, her husband was sleeping with her neighbour”. Or, “It wasn’t actually that teen who was using drugs, he just took the wrap to protect his friend who is regularly beaten by his parents”. Or, “That perfect PTA mom isn’t so perfect, she’s hooked on prescription drugs and barely making it through the day”. There is SO MUCH that happens behind the scenes, we rarely know someone’s full story or their struggle just to show up.
For any successful relationship you see, there’s been work behind the scenes. LOTS of it. Partners who bite their tongue instead of lashing out. Women who want to withdraw and retreat into silence, and instead find their voice to address a prickly issue. Men who pause and choose not to unleash their anger. Solid, enduring unions aren’t solid every minute of every day. Even fabulous relationships have bumps and slumps, disappointments and even distress. The hallmark of a great marriage is not a relationship that’s free from these trying times. It’s how well couples choose to do the behind the scenes work. The kicker is that we often don’t know how to do the work, even when we’re willing. You don’t want to pay a therapist or counsellor a heap of money to tell you to go on date night or to ‘try harder’ or ‘be kinder’. When our relationships are in rocky territory we need to be taught HOW to do the work. If you’re in need to some professional help, ask for recommendations. Check out therapists’ web sites, blogs, or books to see who feels like a good fit and will help you make progress – free of platitudes and trite recommendations. Look for someone who’s willing to look at the nitty gritty and help you solve it. Don’t worry about judgement – any good professional is there to help, not to judge. A great place to begin is reading Terry Real’s book The New Rules of Marriage. I recommend it to all of my clients in relationships because it is all about communication – the most common trouble spot for couples.
Behind the scenes is not always magical. It’s a great deal of heavy lifting, and not-so-sexy attention to details. Just like the vast cast and crew that go into making movie magic, there’s hard work required to bring our best self into our intimate relationships. It’s worth it. Do the work to create the magic.