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Relationship Homework for Katniss and Tris


Art Credit: via

Hunger Games champion Katniss Everdeen and Divergent heroine Tris Prior have captured the hearts and imaginations of women everywhere. Hunger Games swept the box office in 2013 and the new Divergent series promises to give it a run for it's money later this month. We can’t get enough of these high drama, adrenaline filled, post-apocalyptic romances. But when looked at critically, Katniss and Tris have relationships that are just as desolate and grey as the worlds they live in.

What is it about the post-apocalyptic genre that captures the attention of so many women? As a closet Hunger Games and Divergent fan myself, I can say that, for one thing, post-apocalyptic America is surprisingly relatable. Seriously, how often do I feel like survival takes precedence over romance? Or suspect that there is something off about my brain, but it’s actually the key to saving the world? Or intimidate men with my bow and arrow and ability to hunt for my own food? (Not that often I guess, but you should see me in Trader Joe’s.)

The point is, it’s easy for women to root for Katniss and Tris—we’re all slightly traumatized-ass-kicking-survivors at heart. But it’s important to remember that these characters, like many of us, could use some help in the relationship department. After talking with a therapist at the Gottman Institute, I have identified 3 areas where our two favorite post-apocalyptic heroines could use some attention.

01. Trust.

Divergent heroine Tris and her fiercely protective boyfriend Four are constantly lying to each other. Tris and Four justify that the lies are in the others best interest, but soon learn that their relationship becomes impossible without being able to trust each others' word.

Trust is one of the weight-bearing walls of what Dr. John Gottman—clinical psychologist and co-founder of the Gottman Institute—calls "The Sound Relationship House." Trust is when a person knows that their partner acts and thinks to maximize the other’s benefits, not just their own interests. In other words, “my partner has my back and is there for me.” Lies and secrets, whatever the intention, prevent a mutual understanding that your are working for the good of the other person. Without this mutual understanding, Tris and Four, often find themselves in a “zero-sum game” where one partner’s gain is perceived to be the other partner’s loss.

02. Emotional Connection.

Hunger Games champion Katniss Everdeen offers her readers a running internal dialog of all her fears and emotions. But when it comes to the men she loves, Katniss keeps them in the dark. Without verbal affirmation or emotional intimacy, Peeta—Katniss’ faithful lover—is constantly left guessing.

Stonewalling is one of the "Four Horseman of the Apocalypse," a metaphor used by Gottman to describe communication styles that can predict the end of a relationship. Stonewalling is basically when the partner stops participating in the conversation, not listening, no eye contact, crossing arms . . . basically turning away. Gottman methodology urges partners to “turn toward” each other. According to research, turning toward each other fosters emotional connection and strengthens the relationship. Katniss complains throughout the story that she has a hard-time relating to people, but opening up to Peeta could have been as easy as uncrossing her arms, taking a few steps towards him rather then running away.

03. Accepting Influence.

Katniss and Tris must both learn to fend for themselves; they wouldn’t survive if not for their self-sufficiency. But, as their stories progress, they tend to let their fear of failure take over their relationships. As they become involved with men who love them, they have a hard time letting go and accepting help when they need it.

Gottman’s research found that you can’t win an argument simply by countering everything your partner says. If you cannot accept influence, conflict is bound to escalate. He found that in order to “win” an argument, you have to get your partner to start saying “yes” . . . and in order to do that, you need to yield to the parts of your partner's argument that seem reasonable. When partners yield, the issue starts to become something that both people are working on together.

Katniss and Tris needed to save the world, we get it. But by lying, stonewalling, and refusing to yield for help, they were forced to do it alone, and their relationships suffered.