Two Jews on a cruise

A BBC TV crew, a therapist and a Jewish couple hold a series of workshops in an effort on Imago therapy.

CHARLOTTE SLOPAK GOLLER and her husband Gil 521 (photo credit: Courtesy: Paddy Wivell, BBC)
CHARLOTTE SLOPAK GOLLER and her husband Gil 521
(photo credit: Courtesy: Paddy Wivell, BBC)
On a cruise to Alaska last summer, Jerusalem-based relationship counselor Charlotte Slopak Goller and her husband, Gil, attended a psychology lecture. It got them thinking how much fun it would be to lead their “Getting the Love You Want” workshops on the high seas.
When they returned home, Charlotte found an email in her inbox from a British Broadcasting Corporation assistant producer asking them to do just that.
“It was the most amazing thing,” recalls Charlotte, a psychoanalyst who moved to Israel as a 40-something single and married Gil, a widowed patent attorney, 15 years ago.
A previous BBC Wonderland documentary on hassidic weddings had introduced viewers to a colorful – and some might say mismatched – couple named Gaby and Tikwah Lock, then married 40 years. The producers discovered that these hassidic grandparents from London had just booked their first-ever vacation: a 12-day kosher Mediterranean cruise departing from Haifa on the Mano Golden Iris.
“The email said that kosher cruises often feature lectures, and they were looking for experts to hold a seminar for Jewish couples,” says Charlotte. Seeking an appropriate English-speaking professional in Israel, the assistant producer had come across Charlotte’s website.
And that’s how the Gollers ended up on the deck of the Golden Iris last November, somewhat awkwardly scouting out additional English-speakers to participate with the Locks in five 90- minute sessions in the ship’s playroom as the BBC cameras rolled.
“GETTING THE Love You Want,” normally a 20-hour workshop for couples of all ages and stages, is based on Imago Relationship Therapy, originally described in a book by Harville Hendrix. The Gollers trained in this method about a decade ago, after one of Charlotte’s clinic patients showed her the book.
The basic idea is that people’s childhood relationships “imprint” them to be attracted to a partner possessing both positive and negative characteristics of their parents. They unconsciously expect this partner to compensate for aspects of themselves they “lost” in childhood. Imago facilitators, Charlotte explains, teach new communication tools to help each partner identify and nurture the other’s undeveloped aspects.
“Many couples think if they have issues they should just get divorced, but Harville Hendrix has proposed and proven that the purpose of marriage is to heal your childhood wounds,” says Charlotte. “You need to work on these issues, to heal yourself and your partner and to become complete.”
Gil says he was “dragged” to their initial session, as are many husbands, but quickly fell in love with Imago. Lacking a background in psychology, he participates as a certified Imago educator.
“Imago was put together so magnificently in a system built on intellect and compassion. It changed our relationship tremendously,” he says. “The brilliance of it is that what you won’t do for the adult in your partner you’ll do for the child in your partner. You learn to hear the ‘wounded child’ and you want to help that wounded child.”
GUR HASSID Gaby Lock, a hyper-sociable former radio talk-show host, was certainly a wounded child. His mother had died while giving birth to him and his twin. The introverted Tikwah, on the other hand, grew up in the Netherlands with a frequently traveling father and a brother who was the clear parental favorite.
“Tikwah’s main complaint was that Gaby gave attention to others, not to her,” says Charlotte. “This was similar to what she experienced in childhood – that her brother got the attention. Gaby is out there with other people all the time and she is often trying to find him, even on the ship.”
In the documentary, aired February 29 as Two Jews on a Cruise, Tikwah begs her husband, “Give me a bit more attention and don’t always run away; that’s all I’m asking.” She doesn’t want to run around with Gaby to the on-shore sightseeing adventures and admits to being lonely: “He always thinks being with others is more interesting,” she says.
“They’re a good couple in that he fills a need for her and she fills a need for him,” says Gil. “He is like her father and brother and she’s like his mother. I would call them an Imago match.”
Encouraging Gaby to talk to his wife in a different way wasn’t easy. “Gaby likes to be provocative,” Charlotte explains. “He said things like, ‘I’ve had individual therapy and it was better than this,’ and he didn’t want to cooperate. Tikwah is very passive and didn’t feel comfortable speaking to Gaby in front of the group, though she did speak some.”
Ordinarily, the Gollers would have chosen a different “demo couple” to model Imago interactions, but the BBC wanted the Locks in the spotlight as much as possible. Charlotte saw immediately that the other couples found it hard to observe without commenting.
“It was frustrating for me the way some of their dialogues went,” says Bev Menahem, an Ashdod resident married 27 years. She and her Moroccan-Israeli husband, David, served as an alternate demo couple during the cruise. “In one exercise we did, each partner picks three things they love about their spouse, and it was difficult for Gaby to express himself. It was challenging to get him to open up; he seemed stuck in a certain place. But the Gollers really kept their cool. They are very patient and very approachable.”
Charlotte didn’t let the others say anything during the dialogue. “They were allowed to comment afterward on how I impacted on the way Gaby and Tikwah communicate,” explains Charlotte, who also gave the Locks two private sessions.
Toward the end of the cruise, Gaby brought Tikwah a delicate vase he bought for her as she waited for him on the ship. And he began bringing Tikwah coffee and a croissant in bed. She was clearly delighted at these gestures.
But perhaps most significant was a step he took when they got home. “Gaby is a hoarder, and we learned that he has a room that’s a total mess,” says Charlotte. “We told Tikwah she couldn’t ask him to clean out the whole mess, so she chose to ask him if he could at least get rid of the pile of long fluorescent light bulbs.”
At the end of Two Jews on a Cruise, a million and a half viewers saw Gaby tossing the bulbs into a London dustbin.
“If you watch the documentary, you can see how what Charlotte did with them resulted in change – minor change, but change,” says Gil. “After 41 years, their marriage is not going to change dramatically. The truth is they could probably use two years with Charlotte. Imago doesn’t work unless you keep working on it. They have to be motivated to change, and I’m not sure they are.”
Reached by phone in London, the Locks unequivocally confirm that assessment.
“It would take years of counseling to get anything practical out of it,” Gaby states in his super-fast staccato style. “I think [the BBC] just brought it in to make it a bit more interesting.”
Has their marriage changed at all? “No. There’s no difference from before. The Gollers wanted me to think I don’t hear what my wife says, but I do. I just think differently than she does... We’ve already overcome the problem of our different personalities. We love and care for each other... She is part of me and I am part of her.”
Tikwah initially didn’t want to answer any questions, explaining that people in their community “have been extremely nasty to us” about the documentary and she’s tired of talking about it.
But when pressed for her opinion of the Imago workshops, she says, “It was a load of rubbish. I didn’t think there was anything in it. I did it because it was part of the program.” She laughs. “My husband is not such an easy person, but which husband is? Men are definitely from a different planet.”
THE SESSIONS were, however, a hit with the other couples, according to comments on the evaluation forms the Gollers handed out.
“I loved it,” says Bev Menahem. She and David gained insights into why each reacts the way they do to certain events. “It was very helpful and productive, and I was pleasantly surprised that my husband enjoyed it also. It certainly made the trip more interesting.”
Gaby Lock has his own perspective on the Jerusalem couple who tried to improve his marriage: “They’re not bad, the Gollers. But they’ve only been through 15 years of marriage. They’ve got to go through more.”