Dr. Jenn Berman On Couples Therapy Episode 3: “Don’t Pretend Things Are Fine”


Couples Therapy Dr. Jenn Berman
Couples Therapy seeks to repair the relationships of couples who have spent significant time in the spotlight, and season two is going to bring the drama in ways that season one never dreamed. Dr. Jenn Berman will be speaking to us each week to help us make sense of the couples’ issues and shed light on why they need her help. This week Dr. Jenn discusses her heated conversation with Doug about her comment that he pimps out Courtney, and which couples were brought back from the brink of divorce.

One thing I liked about this episode is that for all the times we’ve spoken to one another, I never really ask you about you, so it was great to hear you discuss your daughters a little bit with Shayne tonight. As a mom how does that change the dynamic of working with couples, especially ones with kids themselves?

I have a lot of empathy for parents, and mothers in particular, and I had a lot of empathy for Shayne’s struggle, being away from her daughter. It’s incredibly hard to be away from your child but this is a couple who desperately needed to address the issues in their marriage and I could see clearly that if they didn’t, their marriage was not going to last. They came to me at such a crisis point, it was very, very serious.

Is it fair to say that at this point they were only together for the sake of their daughter?

Here’s the thing: Nik and Shayne met, they had this whirlwind romance, it was very intense, they married and had a great time together, and then Shayne got pregnant and it changed the dynamics of the relationship in many ways. They were not prepared and didn’t have the foundation and the history to prepare them for that shift. Their family histories, her tendency to run from conflict and not know how to talk it out, all of these factors led to the perfect storm of events that led them to a very bad place. When you hear her say “The only reason I’m trying is because of my daughter,” I think you’ll see that through the evolution of the season, this is actually a couple that loves each other very much and they just got to a very dark place and they were on the brink of divorce. She had asked him for a separation before they came to to the house and they were really in crisis. I was so glad I got them when I did.

Do you feel that way about Simon and Alex too as far as getting them before it was too late?

Yes, very much so. They went through a war together with their other reality show and, while on the one hand it brought them together and made them “us against the world,” on the other hand, it tore them apart and created all these other conflicts and stresses in their marriage and they were not equipped to handle it.

They mentioned how being in the spotlight affected their kids and their son was labeled as bratty after being shown on the Housewives — is the effect of media attention and how it affects the family something you work with regularly?

Absolutely. I have a lot of celebrities that I deal with in my practice and I have for many years. What they went through with their son was really tough and I think that most people don’t realize that when you expose your kids to the media, you lose control. You lose control of what people say, you put them out there to be criticized, and you put yourself out there to be criticized as a parent and that’s painful stuff.

It was surprising to see Simon react the way he did with Alex this week, he deflected a lot of blame and told her that a lot of problems between them were her problem and she needed to get over them.

Simon had a real lack of empathy for his wife and did not know how to connect with her or show her kindness, and it was interesting because he genuinely loves his wife, no question, this is a man who loves his wife and wants her to be happy and at the same time he had no idea how to do that.

I was also really surprised by JoJo this week, especially his reaction to you and your suggestions about alcohol treatment.

And you only saw the half of it. JoJo was not happy. That was a long session and I was very honest and tough with him and he was not prepared for it. The hallmark of alcoholism is denial and you can see that he was trying to present when he came in this air of “This is fine, I’m in recovery and I’m fine,” but the truth is, he wasn’t. He had drank himself into the hospital five days before and he wanted to act like it was fine, and I don’t pretend things are fine in my treatment center.

When you told Tiny that she needed to let go of trying to save him, was that a revelation to her?
Without a doubt. I think it was the first time anyone had told her it’s not her job to save him. As many people in a relationship with an addict or alcoholic do, she thought it was her job to keep him alive and save him, but the truth is, her attempts to save him actually enabled him and helped him to continue to be sick. It was pretty monumental for her to have someone say you need to stop this and start looking out for you.

Let’s discuss the Doug and Courtney chapter of the story this week. Once again, I appreciated your ability to call out their behavior so bluntly to say what the rest of us are thinking, and this time it was you calling him out for pimping out Courtney. It was hard to tell if he was genuinely offended or just going back and forth with you when you brought it up.

He and I actually have a great relationship, and we’ve come around. We have a great respect for one another. He’s a very honest guy. He really tells you what he thinks and if I say something that really bothers him, he will tell me. And you’ll see him do it over and over again through the season. I was very straightforward with him and my commitment to everyone I do therapy with is that I will be really f—ing honest. If I only get three weeks with you, I’m going to tell you how it is.

What was his ultimate takeaway from what you said about his pimping Courtney out?

I think he had just not conceptualized it that way. I think one of the interesting things about Courtney is that she is actually very bright and people underestimate her all the time. And Courtney has an amazing way of getting everyone around her, her mom, Doug, to rally and help her do what she wants without questions. And this was one of those things. She has created a brand and an image for herself as this sexy, young vixen, and it’s an image that makes people around her uncomfortable, it hurts her relationships, especially with women, and it hurts her relationship with Doug, but at the same time, she has managed to not have her husband say “you know what, why don’t you cover up a little when we go out?” or “Let’s just focus on each other.” The way that affects the dynamics, as you saw, is quite fascinating.

When you told her that the way she dresses makes people not take her seriously, she looked upset by that, how did she really react to that?

Courtney is used to being attacked by people who don’t give her valuable information on that topic. She walks into the house and Nik calls her trash or Shayne says “Cover up, you’re dressed like a hooker,” but it’s a different thing when someone who’s a therapist and is there to advocate for your well-being says “I challenge you to think about this differently. You’re someone who talks about having a sense of self and self-esteem and combating bullying, and I challenge you to say okay, who am I besides the seductive clothes? How do I define myself?” Obviously she’s still young and still figuring out how to define herself.

One of the themes of this week’s episode seems to be the selfish behavior of one partner and how it affects the other. In our mobile quiz “Are You More Selfless or Selfish?” find out what qualities you possess by clicking here.

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