[K-drama therapy] Couples therapy
by Guest Beanie
I have to begin by saying that my wife would rightfully deny that we have ever been through difficulties severe enough to require actual couples therapy. In our 30+ years of marriage, we have never had a conflict severe and lengthy enough to require a real life marriage therapist.
Nonetheless, early in the pandemic, we experienced one tragedy — my wife’s beloved brother died of the disease — and one unfortunate consequence, when the company my wife worked for closed and she subsequently decided to retire. With my work going entirely online, we were forced together to a degree we had not been since the very early years of our marriage. My wife was understandably depressed, I was irritable, and inevitable tensions arose. In fact, even as we began our immersion into K-dramas, I understood I needed to pick up my husbanding game, if only by working on my abdominal muscles to more closely resemble a K-drama star (HA!).
Given the nature of the pandemic, we were already watching a lot more TV, but for us, K-dramas had special appeal because they are exceptionally good at telling stories in our respective favorite genres. My wife, a scientist, has always enjoyed police procedurals, true crime, detective and lawyer shows, convinced as she is that creative intelligence, careful gathering of evidence, and rational drawing of conclusions can solve any problem. I, a humanist, have always loved romances, thinking that if only everyone could pair with their one true love and eat large communal meals with lots of side dishes, we could achieve world peace.
Watching our favorite types of shows together did not produce total marital harmony. I began to worry that she was profiling me as the culprit for the long unsolved mystery of the missing last donut, and I’m sure my wife was concerned that my maudlin response to Episode 13 break-ups could cause me to drink too much soju, and she’d have to carry me up to bed on her back.
But I should note that both the detective and the romance genres have a set of extremely familiar tropes which is very comforting in times of distress — and might have special appeal to couples like us, who have our own long-standing rituals and shared memories, triggered by watching a last kiss amidst falling cherry blossoms, or a brutal serial murder case finally solved.
What did we, or I should say more properly, I, learn from K-drama marital counseling? To be more attentive to my wife’s needs, listen to what she was saying, and express my affection for her more frequently? No, I already knew I needed to do that. What I learned was more a set of specific lessons, helpful for navigating the day-to-day process of living extra closely with my life-partner.
Here, in list form, are some of my drama-inspired marriage strengthening tips.
Tip #1: Employ some simple phrases to prevent conflicts from escalating:
- When you are really irritated at her: “Aigoo, you rascal!” (Note: “Rascal” is absolutely the only English subtitle epithet that is acceptable to use with a spouse. Avoid “punk” at all costs.)
- When you have to explain why you bought something totally frivolous for yourself: “I couldn’t escape my destiny. This [new TV, 20th pair of running shoes, umpteenth kitchen gadget, etc. etc.] and I met as children.”
- When you’ve committed (totally inadvertently, of course) a mortal sin against your spouse: “I like you. I like you a lot.”
Useful escape strategy in case of marital emergency
Tip #2: To avoid unnecessary misunderstandings, do not:
- Rave too much about the beauty of Kim Hye-soo, pointing out how she is only ten years younger than your spouse.
- Startle your wife with a back hug when she is knitting with large needles.
- Express admiration for the Joseon system of concubinage for the way it allowed thwarted love to flourish.
Concubine: a marital no-no
Tip #3: To improve daily happiness:
- Preempt a potential argument by asking your spouse if she has eaten.
- Occasionally surprise your wife by fastening a necklace around her neck while she is getting dressed, even if she is just putting on sweat clothes. (Note: No need to actually buy a new necklace — just get one from the jewelry box. It’s the gesture that counts!
- Occasionally cover her hand with yours meaningfully at the dinner table, after making sure she is not holding her fork.
Dinner improves with (just a little) physical contact
Tip #4: Special physical intimacy tips for long-term married couples only:
- If your spouse surprises you with a kiss, do not open your eyes wide like a startled animal.
- If your spouse is considerably shorter than you, and has her face upturned to kiss, do not lean down and kiss her forehead instead.
- If you sleep together, do not get up and put on a sweater and khakis before morning.
Nice, but heavy sweaters are not necessary
So has the K-drama therapeutic intervention improved our marriage? I think so. If nothing else, it has given an additional set of shared experiences, that we can refer to, and laugh about, while our adult children glance at each other with worried expressions, wondering if they should arrange for a caretaker for their aging parents before its too late.
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