Earlier this week the news reported that Angelina Jolie had filed for divorce from Brad Pitt. Together for over a decade and married for two years, the Brangelina match appears to be over.
Irrespective of the reasons for the breakdown of their marriage (and why it is anyone else’s business anyway), every broken marriage is a tragedy. All marriages start out full of hope and optimism. When they end, broken dreams and broken hearts are the result.
We are not interested in joining the chorus of gossip-mongers vying for the most outrageous and titillating details. So rather than talking about Brad and Angelina themselves or their divorce, we’d like to look at the movie in which their relationship began: what did Mr & Mrs Smith bring to the world of relationship insights?
The action-rom-com playfully explores one couple’s dramatic recovery of their marriage from monotonous decay to explosive (quite literally) romance. For those of us who have seen the movie, who can forget the iconic opening and closing scenes in the marriage counsellor’s office, which so graphically illustrate the transformation of their relationship?
As the movie opens the couple faces an off screen counsellor. To the amusement of the audience, when asked about their sex life, the Smiths, fails to understand the question, betraying their humiliation regarding their lack of sexual intimacy.
The movie thus sets their sexual engagement as the barometer of their marital health. Flash back scenes depict their steamy beginnings which contrast with their sterile and superficial interaction in the present. How did they get to this point?
Of course far from being the typical suburban couple, the seemingly every day Smiths are anything but ordinary. Unbeknown to the other, their secret identities as professional assassins eventually push their marriage to crisis point.
And therein lies a simple but powerful insight: dedicated pursuit of individual careers, shrouded in secrecy, is a recipe for marital decay. You don’t have to be an assassin or spy to fall victim to the danger of careerism. Both lead separate lives, have habitual secrecy, travel and long hours – what could possibly go wrong with their marriage?
Predictably, they react with outrage at the betrayal and deception in the other, triggering a marital gunfight to which only Hollywood can do justice. Equally predictable is the revitalisation of their relationship as they face a common, deadly enemy and, for the first time, are completely honest with each other.
While it has all the extremes of a Hollywood fiction, there are elements of the story with which any couple can identify. For example, the sense of bewilderment at the decline of their relationship, the pressure of demanding careers, the desperate façade of normalcy projected to the outside world, and the petty arguments over who gets to drive and who gets to shoot the bad guys… okay so maybe that last one is not that common, but you get the idea.
Here are some lessons from Mr & Mrs Smith that we can identify:
- Build your relationship on openness and honesty. Deception and secrets are incompatible with trust.
- Pay attention to your sex life: if it’s feeling a bit stale, chances are there’s something more that needs attention.
- Spend time together engaged in joint projects. Working together for a common goal bonds people together (preferably something legal).
None of us aspire to a life of monotony and mediocrity. And we weren’t called to be ordinary either. In fact, our society needs exceptional marriages more than ever. Approach your marriage as a dangerous adventure and you’ll avoid the Mr & Mrs Smith pitfalls and perhaps share in a different but just as exciting adventure together.