Dysfunctional Relationships Rule 'Grey's Anatomy' & 'Private Practice'!

The doctors on Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice spend so much time mulling over their relationships and talking about sex (while some poor sap is under the knife) that it has me scared to go to the doctor.

And for good reason.

Each week, watching this show is like watching middle school children try to conduct adult relationships. Hello? Anyone heard of communication? Honesty? Trust? The hallmarks of healthy relationships seemed to have passed these doctors by. While it makes for great TV drama, their behavior is not the model for healthy relationships.

We consulted an expert -- psychotherapist Dr. Tina Tessina, PhD, author of Money, Sex, and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage.


"Drama and dysfunction go hand in hand -- without the dysfunction, there would be no drama," says Tessina. True enough. There could be no show without dysfunction.

Nevertheless, Tessina did have some ideas for the couples:

Private Practice:

  • Charlotte and Cooper are a mountain of dysfunction. Charlotte runs away every time babies come up, and the two have made up and fought dirty and had more make-up sex and avoidance sex than any other couple in Shonda Rimes history. And though it seems that last week brought a host of new issues for the couple, Dr. Tessina still had some advice:

Charlotte is a cold person -- sexual, but not emotional. She certainly wouldn't feel comfortable caring for a child. She is only slowly forming an emotional attachment to Cooper. What they have had is passion, and she uses sex to avoid emotions. That being the case, she is probably right to not want to become a mother. Every woman isn't cut out for motherhood, and it's detrimental to the child when a mother can't attach. Charlotte is only partially aware of her coldness, but it would be lovely if she could talk about it with Cooper (who is warm). If he wants children, they could make a deal that he would do the parental bonding. But they shouldn't go into parenting without being clear about the attachment issues. Cooper is actually quite good at not remaining hurt when she rejects him emotionally, and coming back again and again until he gets her to talk to him. That's why she's slowly bonding. But that's tough on the warm partner and can lead to codependency.

  • Pete and Violet: Violet went through a horrible trauma when her baby with Pete was ripped from her womb by a knife-wielding maniac. She went crazy, left the baby, returned a year later, and then married the man who'd been sleeping with Addison until then. Confused? Just wait until this season's plotline around Pete's crazy family comes into play ... Dr. Tessina's advice:

Pete and Violet rushed into marriage in one way, but remember they were headed there before the traumatic Caesarian. Violet is clearly not OK, although she keeps saying she is (typical of PTSD). It's better for their child if Pete and Violet are together. I think the writers are setting us up here for Pete to be unfaithful. If you remind me about Pete's family, I'll give you that information.

  • Addison and Sam: Addison's best friend Naomi is Sam's ex-wife and the mother of his teenage daughter. Whatever happened to girl code? We asked Dr. Tessina. What is the "right" way to date a friend's ex-husband? Is there one?

Addison is another person who has difficulty bonding, although she's not as cold as Charlotte. It's interesting to me that the women in this series have the coldness problem -- it's more often the male characters who have it in other series. Addison is additionally burdened by guilt. She and Sam didn't tell Naomi, using the excuse that she was struggling with her daughter's accident and giving birth, as well as the illness and loss of William. The best way (if there is a good way) of dating a friend's ex-husband is to clear it with the friend before dating. In Sam and Naomi's case, they're forever bonded by co-parenting, so to set up a triangle between them and Addison is asking for a lot of future drama (which the series would want, but you probably don't in your private life) because they'll be dealing with grandchildren and "original family" events for a lifetime. Naomi is also not clearly over her relationship with Sam -- it never passed through the loss to the "tolerant friendship" stage, so Naomi is not going to be very accepting of her best friend dating the husband she still wants.

Grey's Anatomy:

  • Derek and Meredith: The couple around which the show is based, Derek and Meredith are finally happy. But then she had a miscarriage last season and told her best friend before she told her husband. According to Dr. Tessina:

Meredith is damaged by her childhood traumas, and she and Derek don't have a very trusting relationship. So, telling him difficult things is extra hard. Also, I think she worried that he would blame himself for it. Given the over-the-top dramatic nature of the events, I don't know that there would have been a "right" way to handle it. In circumstances like these, which most real people never have to deal with (miscarriages certainly happen, but not in conjunction with crazed shooters shooting up the workplace) you find the first decent opportunity and say "I have something I need to tell you" and then talk about it.

  • Mark and "Little Grey": This couple is back and forth and back and forth. He loves her but won't tell her. Isn't this immature? According to Dr. Tessina:

Of course it is. But Mark is not a healthy guy -- he can't relate honestly to anyone. He cheats, he lies, he tries to avoid responsibility. Why would it be different with Little Grey?

Some final words: "Healthy relationships are partnerships," says Dr. Tessina. "Drama comes only from the outside (accidents, travels, deaths in the family, etc.); it isn't supposed to be manufactured from within, by lying, cheating, and competing with each other."

Do you think these relationships are normal?


Image via ABC

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