In Practice

Putting social psychology to work for you

Five Ways Don and Megan Draper Could Rescue Their Relationship

What Mad Men's Drapers are doing wrong and how they can save their relationship

Photo Credit: Michael Yarish/AMC
Spoiler alert: If you haven't seen the Mad Men Season 5 finale yet, don't read on until after you have.

Mad Men might be set in the 1960s, but happy relationships are based on our evolved attachment and caring system, and in that respect the ingredients for relationship success are the same in 1967 as in 2012.

Here are five ways Don and Megan Draper could rescue their relationship.

1. Turn towards each other 

In Megan's opening scene in last night's finale she hides a letter from Don because she's feeling embarrassed. She has realized her naivete in paying for a demo reel from a company who promised to send it to agents but obviously haven't. 

When Megan keeps her hurt and embarrassment a secret from Don she misses out on the opportunity to be emotionally responded to. Partners don't always "get it right" in how they respond but emotionally shutting Don out removes even the possibility of him being emotionally responsive.

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Don and Megan need to take some emotional risks with each other by expressing their respective emotional vulnerabilities. Don is more emotionally responsive to Joan than he is in his relationship with Megan. For example, his response when Joan is talking about being haunted by questions about Lane's suicide is far from perfect but he seems more motivated to be emotionally responsive and less terrified to try it. In this case it was Joan who took the lead in expressing vulnerable emotions to Don, whereas Megan seems to have given up on that unless she's drunk. 


Photo Credit: Jordin Althaus/AMC
2. Know each other better

Couples need to ask each other questions like "How has your upbringing influenced how you function as an adult?"

Without knowing this kind of information about each other, how our partners behave when under stress is without context.

Don and Megan both need to open up to each other about how their earlier life experiences have created their current emotional vulnerabilities, raw spots, and coping styles.

Raw spots are sensitivities that develop in earlier relationships that we carry forward into later relationships. One of Don's raw spots is his role in other people's deaths (his mother, his brother, and now Lane). If he'd been able to tell Megan about the hallucinations he was experiencing about his brother's suicide, it likely would have helped them feel close to each other.

One of Megan's raw spots is when she has a sense that people don't have confidence in her and aren't even really interested in her. 

We see this theme repeat when Megan is feeling upset about not getting acting jobs. We first see Megan getting upset with her mother, and later get upset with Don.

Megan needs to to be able to explain the origin of her raw spot to Don (feeling lack of caring from her mother) and help him understand that her distress when she doesn't get caring interest from him is partly due to it rubbing her raw spot.


Photo Credit: Jordin Althaus/AMC
3. Supporting each other's exploration

A core function of attachment relationships is that they help us have the sense of security we need to stretch ourselves, try new things, and risk failure. 

Romantic partners frequently make bids for each other's attention and affection. Being responded to rather than ignored helps us feel secure in the relationship.

When Megan sang Zou Bisou Bisou in the first episode of Season 5, she misjudged that the surprise party and her performance would make Don happy. However, he could've recognized her song as her expressing herself and supported that she was being herself. 

4. Find out what's happening in each other's day

Emotional responsiveness is as much about the little things as about the big things. Megan appears unaware of the ethical dilemmas Don is dealing with at work.

Don also needs to express an interest in what Megan is thinking about and doing on a day to day basis. If Don made an effort to find out one thing that was happening in Megan's day as part of their morning goodbye, it would help Megan feel like he is interested in who she is. Sometimes improving relationships is as easy as things like this.

They could also express more appreciation and admiration for each other, in little ways, everyday.

5. Better self care

Don goes through the entire episode with tooth pain. Things like pain, exerting willpower, and making lots of decisions wear down our coping capacity. While his tooth pain was wearing down his willpower, he was even more dismissive than usual to Megan. We need to take care of ourselves to be able to offer caring to others.

Want to learn more relationships psychology via TV watching?

Check out Six Healthy Relationship Patterns Seen On TV's Modern Family for what you can learn about relationship happiness from the couples of Modern Family.

About Alice Boyes Ph.D.

Alice Boyes  Ph.D. is a social and clinical psychologist. Her research about couples has been published in leading journals, including Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Follow Alice on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/DrAliceBoyes

or Twitter @DrAliceBoyes http://twitter.com/DrAliceBoyes

Sources

The relationships psychology principles in this article are based on Gottman Therapy (developed by John Gottman Ph.D.), Emotionally Focussed Therapy (developed by Les Greenberg and Sue Johnson), and Adult Attachment Theory (pioneered by Hazan and Shaver, 1987). 

Photo Credits:

Don Draper (Jon Hamm) - Michael Yarish/AMC 

Megan Draper (Jessica Pare) - Jordin Althaus/AMC

Megan Draper (Jessica Pare) and Don Draper (Jon Hamm)  - Jordin Althaus/AMC

 

Alice Boyes, Ph.D. translates principles from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and social psychology into tips people can use in their everyday lives.

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