I recall that, as a teenager, I felt ready to get married at age 14. The hormones were operating at a high level and dating in my own mind was serious. Fortunately, I did not act on impulse and I matured, realizing that marriage was a serious and sacred enterprise that required a commitment of soul, not just bodies.
Now that I have entered the ranks of senior citizens, I understand better that love within marriage grows in many ways: physical, emotional, and spiritual. Marriage counselors of all stripes advise couples to work at marriage even in the senior years to keep it fresh and alive. That essentially is the narrative arc of Hope Springs, a thoughtful film about seniors dealing with a changing relationship that needs an infusion of passion at all levels to prevent the marriage from atrophy.
Empty nesters Kay and Arnold Soames, after 31 years of marriage, have fallen into a rut. Their marriage is devoid of passion and even simple connection. They sleep in separate bedrooms and their conversation is perfunctory. On one fateful day, Kay buys a book about how to keep a marriage fresh written by Dr. Bernie Feld, who runs a marriage counseling center in a remote coastal town in Maine. Kay signs up for a week-long therapy session and Arnold reluctantly goes. So begins an engaging account of Arnold and Kay’s attempt to rekindle the love that once was and seems to be no more.
The therapy involves Dr. Feld asking many candid questions about Kay and Arnold’s views of marital intimacy and how they feel about one another now. Touching one another for extended periods of time is the first exercise by Dr. Feld, and things progress from there to greater intimacy in all manifestations.
Kay and Arnold make progress and then return to Omaha, their home. At first, things begin to unravel, but when Kay and Arnold realize how much is at stake for both of them at this time of their lives, they recommit to working at their marriage. The two gifted actors who play Kay and Arnold, Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones, enable the film to achieve a depth and honesty that is extraordinary and separate this film from others that also deal with an aging husband and wife adjusting to their changing minds and bodies.
The Sages of old tell us that although the primary purpose of marriage is to have children, intimacy within marriage is considered good even after a couple has children because it fortifies the marriage bond. The human touch is critical at all stages of marriage. It is interesting to note that during the childbearing years, traditional Judaism requires husband and wife to observe a separation during the wife’s menses and for seven days afterward. Practically speaking, this means that intimacy does not occur for approximately 12 days per month. After menopause, husband and wife can be intimate with one another all the time, as if to teach us that more touching is needed as one gets older so that one continues to feel desired.
Hope Springs reminds us that love springs eternal only if we work at it. Keeping busy with the technological conveniences of modern life, with cell phones, with computers, with surfing the internet allows us the freedom to communicate with the world; but the most important communication, suggest our Sages, is on the home front where we need to prioritize our communication efforts. A perfunctory kiss in the morning and a quick “I love you” is not enough. True love takes time to nurture and grow, but it can bring great rewards. Happily, Kay and Arnold make the investment that can save their future.