Dr. Jenn Berman On Couples Therapy Episode 5: Nobody Says No To Courtney Stodden

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Dr Jenn Berman Couples Therapy
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 we discuss Too Short and Monica’s power struggle, Nik’s loneliness and why it upsets Shayne, and implementing a dress code for Courtney.

So I was really happy to finally get into Too Short and Monica‘s story this week. But what confused me the most about them was that he was delivering mixed messages the whole time. At first he told her not to count on him to be there and he wasn’t selling her any little girl dreams, but when he spoke to you in private he was much more vulnerable and talked about being Todd who was trying to live in Too Short’s world and that he did want this settled-down life.

I think that Todd experiences much of the same confusion that you do! There’s a part of Todd that really wants the white picket fence and the kids and that life, but he lives a life that is not conducive to that at all. And at the same time, as you’ll see as the season progresses, there are things that Todd has been through that did not leave him emotionally prepared to be a great boyfriend or spouse. It’s not just the Too Short thing, it’s the family of origin thing.

Does he just not want to build up her expectations so she won’t be disappointed?

He does want to avoid building up her expectations so she’s not disappointed, because he is very conflicted and doesn’t know that he can deliver.

In the conversation about who has the power in the relationship, they began by saying they held equal power, but then you pointed out that he’s the one making decisions about them, so he holds more power. Was it hard for her to hear that since she thought they were equals?

Monica is a very open-minded person and she comes from a place where she is always open and ready to hear whatever the universe has to offer her, and that’s something that makes her a real pleasure to work with, so I think it might have been a little jolting but at the same time, she was really ready to hear it.

Courtney and Doug also discussed who has the power in that relationship —

I think that will probably surprise most people. I think that last week was the first time people were tweeting at me and saying things like “I feel bad for Doug,” and “It seems like he doesn’t have a lot of power in this relationship,” and that was interesting since they didn’t know this episode was coming, but people really started to pick up on that.

In addition to finding out that she considers herself the more powerful one, I was more surprised by some of the statements she made this week, the beauty pageant answers as you called them about how she’s saved lives. It was like what does any of this have to do with the power in your relationship, didn’t that distract from the question at hand?

It wasn’t distracting, but it was good information for me as a therapist, it was almost like she went into this mode of what she’s been trained to do. She’s been working in the entertainment industry and beauty pageants since she was a little girl, so she’s been trained to do the pageant answers, and it’s much easier to do that than to face something difficult or painful. We all have our default buttons, some people, like Shayne, avoid, some people get aggressive like Simon, and Courtney goes to the beauty pageant answers.

Do you think she believes those answers?

Yes, 100%.

For the viewer out there who already thinks she’s kind of an airhead, to hear her say “I dress this way to save lives,” it makes me feel bad because I want her to find some public redemption on this show, but when she says things like that, she’s not doing herself any favors.

No, and Courtney really, passionately believes that her image is something that helps people who are bullied and her strength and conviction help others have strength and conviction. I actually appreciate that. But she and I have spent a lot of time together and talked about a lot of issues, she considers herself to be a feminist, and at the same time, she didn’t realize that the way she dresses contributes to some of the problems she has in the world. Let me clarify this: NOBODY should be bullied or mistreated for what they wear. And the way she was treated when she walked into that house was appalling to me. It was aggressive and it was bullying behavior to call someone trash and it was not right, that should not have taken place. But at the same time, when people mistreat you the same way over and over and over again, you have to look at the fact that the common factor is you. And you have to look at what am I doing to contribute to this dynamic? And that’s part of the reason I implemented the dress code.

It was surprising that she used the same schtick on you that she did on Shayne earlier in the season, the whole “You are entitled to your opinion but I disagree,” response. What you were doing was a rule, not a criticism, and it was as much for her benefit as it was for everyone else.

For her benefit and the benefit of her marriage. One of the interesting things that took place between me and Courtney and what I started to realize was that nobody says no to Courtney Stodden. She is surrounded by people who love and care about her and who also don’t set limits with her. After giving her the opportunity to change her dress and do something different, once I saw that she wasn’t going to, I felt it was important that I step in and set a limit. I did this knowing that people don’t set limits with her and Courtney, in many ways, is still a rebellious teenager. I felt that it was really important that Courtney saw a really strong, female figure who was going to set a limit and keep that limit…and you’ll see what happens.

It was surprising that Doug wasn’t more supportive of your dress code, since he’s complained that he doesn’t like all the attentions she gets when she goes out dressed the way she does.

In psychology we say that people seek homeostatis, they always seek to keep the status quo. Change, even when it’s good change, is very threatening and I think that’s what we saw with Doug.

In that dress code conversation, Courtney actually referred to everyone else in the house as being damaged — everyone except her.

That bothered me. I think that it was a judgmental word and I think that Courtney strives to not be judgmental, and I think it was a slip. She also probably doesn’t have the life experience to really understand the strength and courage it takes to do a lot of the deep work that everyone in that room was doing.

Let’s segue into Shayne and Nik, because they had their freakout at the beginning of the episode with him wanting to leave, and they resolved it, or so we thought. But in their private session with you, he brought up wanting to leave and feeling lonely again with you and that really upset her. Obviously it was something that was still on his mind and she wasn’t aware of that and was really upset about it.

It wasn’t just on his mind, the experience he was having with her at the treatment center was not out of the ordinary, he’s felt alone in his marriage for a long, long time. He intuitively knew that okay, just because we has this one moment doesn’t mean this is resolved, and he was trying to communicate that this was a pattern of theirs, and she had a strong reaction.

You guys discussed her family and the lack of intimacy and feelings she shared with them, she says to you that her family “love each other but we don’t know each other,” what was the root of her family situation?

Her father has been divorced five times, her grandmother has been divorced either seven or eight times. So having strong, meaningful relationships and working through conflict is not in her family history. It’s a very superficial way to be brought up and a very Hollywood way, and unfortunately parents don’t always see their children, and I mean “see” on a deeper level. Children want to be seen and understood n a deep level and that connection and attachment and feeling of acceptance that children get allows them to translate to romantic relationships. That feeling of “you’re going to love me and stand by me and see the icky parts of me,” but she doesn’t have that. The model she has is “When the going gets tough, people take off.” People are replaceable.

Does her having a daughter change the way she views relationships now?

It definitely changed everything for Shayne, it changed the stakes in her marriage, it changed her willingness to do the work. I am sure that if Shayne and Nik did not have Press, they wouldn’t have come to the show, and if they did, they wouldn’t have made it through the therapy, she would not have tolerated it. One of the thing I actually tweeted the other day and something I feel really strongly about is that the viewer will never fully comprehend how courageous, how brave, and how strong every member of the cast, season one and season two, are, for baring their souls and opening themselves up in the way that they did. The depth and the level of therapy that both cast members did is mind-blowing, and I don’t think that most people would have the courage to do what they did behind closed doors without cameras, but the fact that they did it with cameras on them, they are owed tremendous respect, and I believe what they did was nothing short of a public service.

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