There have been two seasons of Couples Therapy and a COVID special where Dr. Orna Guralnik was doing sessions via Zoom, and the show continues to fascinate. What should be an exploitative mess — couples airing their dirty laundry on camera in exchange for free therapy — turns out to be a rare look inside relationships where issues both universal and specific to them might tear them apart. If you ever wonder why a seemingly happy couple suddenly separate or divorce, this show might tell you why. Is the new third season just as good?
Opening Shot: Home video scenes of the four couples featured on the third season of Couples Therapy. They’re having fun on vacation, at their weddings, and during other good times.
The Gist: Psychologist Dr. Orna Guralnik is once again in her soundstage/office in New York, talking to long-term couples who are having issues with each other and/or just the idea of being in their current relationship. Just like on the first two seasons of Couples Therapy, the show’s producers sent out an open call for couples who didn’t mind getting six months’ worth of free therapy from Guralnik in exchange for having the sessions filmed.
Out of the number of couples that agree to this, the show concentrates on the four they found most interesting (we see clips of the others as Guralnik talks to her clinical advisor, Dr. Virginia Goldner). Ping and Will, together 7 years, talk about the fact that they both came into this relationship interested in having an open one, but it seems like the parameters around how Ping conducts her secondary relationships are chafing at her. And when Will talks about how some of the more emotional things she does with her other partners hurts him, she dismisses it as “whining.”
Molly and Josh have been together for 19 years, at it seems like all of the slights and the hurt feelings and all the things that have happened that could have broken them up have happened already, including infidelities on both sides. But while Molly is ready and willing to talk about these things and the hurt they caused, Josh thinks the past is in the past, and dredging up these incidents will only server to hurt Molly in particular and the marriage in general. “That’s not a good answer,” Molly says.
India and Dale, together 8 years, have an 11-month-old child, and he seems to make her feel insecure, especially about her parenting (he has a child from another marriage). This results in arguments where she’s so worked up she makes hurtful remarks like when she wondered if they should have ever had kids. Even though he thinks she doesn’t believe what she’s saying, there’s a big part of India that stands behind what she said.
Finally, Cyn and Yaya have been together for 18 years, and a staleness has crept into their relationship, especially on Yaya’s side. She wonders what life outside their family’s cocoon is like; she equates it to the warm feeling inside a sleeping bag, but the frustration of not being able to unzip herself. She even goes so far to say that she’s not attracted to Cyn anymore.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Couples Therapy Seasons 1 and 2, of course. A scripted simulacrum can be found in State Of The Union.
Our Take: The dynamics of real couples that Couples Therapy does such a good job of showing will always suck us in. This is because, even though each couples’ issues are slightly different, the general themes are universal. If you watch this series with your SO and you don’t recognize some of the themes from your relationship, then either you haven’t been with each other long enough or you’re completely delusional.
After two seasons and a COVID special, though (and lots of therapy ourselves), we tend not to pick sides when we watch this series. Yes, in some couples there is one person who is pretty much trying their hardest to drive the therapeutic bus, using therapy you see in self-help articles and dominating the conversation. But we’ve learned through these seasons and through our own experiences that the a good therapist can cut their way through someone’s BS pretty quickly and get to the heart of why a couple is there.
Guralnik is damn good at what she does, which is one of the reasons why the show feels less exploitative than it might in different hands. When we see her during sessions, she’s very intensely listening to whomever is speaking, catching thrown-off remarks that she thinks are revealing enough to investigate further. Then she digs and digs until the person who made that remarks reveals aspects of his/her/they history that might help open things up for the couple. Guralnik is invested in the couples’ success to the point where she gets emotional about them to Dr. Goldner. but doesn’t hesitate to call people on their BS when she senses that they’re trying to control the session instead of her.
That intensity and emotional investment must be extraordinarily tough on her, but her ability to latch onto even the smallest of details is what leads to some real emotions and real progress with her patients. It’s that process, and the results it yields, that’s the most fascinating aspect of Couples Therapy.
Sex and Skin: There’s talk of sex, but obviously no skin.
Parting Shot: As usual, we get shots of the four couples at home, living everyday life.
Sleeper Star: We continue to give this to Guralnik’s dog, which we are convinced she brings to not only disarm the patients but make herself feel better as she takes on each couple’s emotional baggage.
Most Pilot-y Line: As she talks to Dr. Goldner, Guralnik says, “The truth wants to come out, but then there’s the fear that it’s going to destroy something.” That remark is actually pretty profound, but then we see a montage of emotional moments from couples that didn’t make the final cut. It’s the only time we feel that the show is remotely exploitative, because it’s showing these couple’s low moments without the context that the main four couples get.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Couples Therapy continues to be one of the more fascinating current series because it mostly has respect for the couples who volunteer to have their private lives ripped open on camera. But it’s also because Orna Guralnik is an excellent therapist whose respect for what these couples are revealing to her is apparent.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.