In the course of recently re-reading a 2017 Time Out London article about films with a Valentine’s Day type theme I greatly enjoyed an appraisal of Annie Hall which is possibly my favourite film of all time and has featured in some of my previous blogs.

The film basically documents a relatively short-lived romance between an angst-ridden Alvy Singer played by Woody Allen and an equally angst-ridden Diane Keaton who plays Annie. I remember it particularly for Allen’s quintessential jokes and wisecracks, the elegant repartee, the strong element of “will they, won’t they” and sadly, the inevitable failure of the relationship. Much later on, Alvy takes a more sanguine view of matters but that is months or years after the event and one is left reflecting that he and his ex- girlfriend quite unnecessarily subjected themselves and each other to a long period of upset and distress.

The Time Out reviewer very interestingly looks beyond the romance and passion that one commonly associates with both Valentine’s Day and temporary romantic fiction.

The reviewer writes: –

“… It shows us how difficult communication is. It also shows that two people being passionate about each other is not enough for everything to work out.A long-term relationship is far more complex than that. It has to do with compromise and empathy and acceptance of your partner’s shortcomings”.

This very incisive piece could easily have been written by a mediator or therapist.

It is not uncommon for mediators to become involved at the end of the relationship when passion has presumably died and communication has broken down. This of course accentuates the difficulties for the parties and can make it even harder for them to resolve matters. However, understanding these issues is central to the mediator or therapist’s role and, being both neutral and empathetic, he or she will be very well placed to assist. Interests and concerns about the past will be identified and addressed but the emphasis will be very much on helping the parties to move forward and find resolution.

My favourite part of Annie Hall is the psychiatrist scene in which each protagonist gives his/her own subjective view about frequency of lovemaking to their respective analysts. One cannot help but notice that their respective analysts accept these subjective positions without question, thereby reinforcing each person’s resentments about the other. They tacitly accept and reinforce their patients’ perhaps rather blinkered views of themselves and each other. Accordingly, the analysts who are purporting to help, serve only to reinforce division and contribute to a process of inevitable conflict decline that makes the already very unhappy Alvy and Annie even more miserable and depressed. The services ASM PLUS offers are intended to try and achieve the direct opposite of this.

What might have happened if Alvy and Annie had either contacted a therapist before they reached the stage of standing in their front room arguing about which book or record belongs to whom?

Couples therapists are skilled professionals who, rather than taking sides, adopt a neutral but empathetic standpoint. Not unlike mediators, they help those involved in family disputes to explore their issues, try to find common ground. Rather than two people such as Alvy and Annie voicing their concerns in a one-sided vacuum, the therapist will facilitate discussion and will help them not only to better understand one another but also to consider each other’s viewpoints. They may not reach a formal agreement but the improved understanding that therapy often engenders may provide a framework for some form of future reconciliation. Parties who may not otherwise be ready to enter into mediation and consider complicated issues such as division of property and long-term childcare arrangements may find that two or three sessions with a therapist will help to clear the air. There is every prospect that after these few sessions, a family mediation with all the cost and time related benefits that go with it can go ahead and that lasting resolution can be achieved.

One cannot say that a relationship such as Alvy and Annie’s would be saved by will deliver therapeutic input but in the spirit of Early Dispute Avoidance, the strongly held ASM PLUS view that facilitated talking before the point of inevitable decline will often help those affected to focus their minds and work out what they want. At the very least, a therapist might have helped Alvy and Annie to realise that their relationship was doomed and save them both a great deal of unhappiness. At best, they may have been able to identify some common ground in order to continue their relationship, focus on the positives and coexist harmoniously.

In some such instances it may be appropriate for an informal agreement to be formulated but as with family mediation, the beauty of couples counselling is that although the therapist facilitates, it is the parties themselves who are in control of the process and the outcome thereof. This in turn means that they can draw strength both from the counselling process itself and possibly from one another.

Thinking ahead to Valentine’s Day 2019, would Mr Allen care to consider making Annie Hall 2 in which some of the issues raised in this blog are explored? There would be as much scope for his humour and wit as there was in “Annie Hall 1” and even if there is no unequivocal “happy ending” there could be a much more meaningful outcome.