The project films couples around the world

By Lori DeBoer

Gillian Pierce of Lyons is searching for the keys to making love last. In 2011, she and her brother, DJ Pierce—inspired by their great-grandparents’ 75-year marriage—decided that love needed a conservation effort. They launched Global Glue Project and have filmed couples around the world, asking them to share their most intimate stories: how they fell in love, the obstacles they’ve faced and what keeps them together. The interviews are available online at www.globalglueproject.com.

We talked to Gillian Pierce to find out more about Global Glue Project.

Who are your couples?

We’ve interviewed about 70 couples; they are folks from all over the world and they have been together from a year to 70 years. We’ve filmed in eight counties and counting, and we are building an archive of wisdom that includes voices from every kind of romantic relationship.

What kind of wisdom have you gleaned from the Global Glue Project?

I would say the number-one idea that we’ve heard is “removing the need to be right.” This means that you have to put the relationship senior to the individual. A successful relationship is like a healthy ecosystem, it’s not a zero-sum game, it’s about what’s best for the relationship and finding a win-win. The couples that figure out how to generate fuel for the relationship are the ones that prosper, the fuel can be many things—rituals, communication, intimacy, shared or individual passions, learning what makes the other tick. These couples create healthy partnerships. One of my favorite quotes from a Global Glue interview that illustrates a give-and-take system is, “Only one of us is allowed to be an asshole at a time.”

What kind of niche does Global Glue occupy in the therapeutic landscape?

One of our missions is to destigmatize the need to work at your relationship. For a long time there’s been this idea that if you need therapy, your relationship is broken. So we do widespread community events that normalize the human experience around “we are all in this together, we are all trying to do relationships better.” Our “Glue Talks,” which we’ve held at E-Town and Shine, attract anywhere from 100 to 220 people. We showcase some of our films and a relationship expert, combining the stories of the couples along with expert wisdom, to help make these tools more accessible to wider audiences.

Helen and Sydney shared their story with the Global Glue Project.

We showcase a lot of different relationship therapists who have differing opinions; Global Glue doesn’t have one particular modality. However, I’ve really resonated with Stan Tatkin’s work. (He developed a psychobiological approach to couple’s therapy.) His terminology revolves around secure-functioning relationships, and—I think this lines up with what we’ve learned from Glue—that it’s the day-to-day prioritizing of the relationship that make a difference. So many of the couples we’ve featured have talked about how they’ve ritualized their relationship, doing activities like having their morning cup of coffee together, going to bed and reading or talking together, greeting each other at the end of the day. It’s these little rituals throughout the day that make the whole of the relationship.

Someone recently told me she knew when her marriage was over: when her husband stopped buying her favorite tea. And it sounds so simple, but Stan’s work talks about the neuroscience around the importance of these rituals and how we bond as human beings. People think that it’s the feeling of love that drives loving behavior, that when you love someone you do nice things (which is easy in the honeymoon phase of a relationship). But, for the long haul, it’s the loving behaviors that drive the feelings of love.

Has there been anything surprising that you’ve learned through doing Global Glue interviews?

I think one of the biggest surprises is that what makes us stick together truly is universal. We often hear the same things from couples over and over again, regardless of socioeconomic status, geographic location, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, or whether or not they are monogamous, it seems to me that all of the same principles apply. I have also been surprised over people’s willingness to be vulnerable with us and that everyone has wisdom and an interesting story to share.

What makes Global Glue unique in its approach?

I think it’s a unique combination of story and film and capturing as many voices as possible, but there’s also something powerful about the community aspect and remembering that we are not alone. Something happens to us when we watch someone share and we identify with their story. I’ve had people say to us that they had been in couple’s therapy and they had dealt with a certain issue, but it was only when they watched our films they were able to see things more clearly. It’s almost like the films have their hero’s journey element to them, and we have to be reminded, when we see our own story in someone else’s: “Oh yeah, if they can do it, we can do it.” One young couple was struggling with alcoholism and on the brink of ending their relationship, but when they saw some films that featured alcoholic relationships they were reminded that if you do the work, you can have the relationship.

How do you get couples to open up?

That’s what actually surprises me the most: how vulnerable people are willing to be. We are going into their homes with a camera, most of them we have never met before, we are turning on the camera and asking them to share the most vulnerable moments of their lives. I’ve only had one couple not share something that almost broke them up. The willingness to be honest is unbelievably inspiring. We filmed a couple who had been married for 70 years and they had never spoken out about their infidelity before our interview. We’ve heard couples stories around addiction. We had a really powerful interview with a couple that had lost their young daughter less than a year before the interview. They almost canceled several times because sharing seemed too vulnerable; in the end they did the interview and said it was healing for them. I think that is the other thing: When people tell their stories as “this is the dragon we slayed together,” there’s a bonding that happens in the telling.

How has Global Glue Project personally touched you?

That’s a big one. It’s interesting—I went into this project thinking that I would get an answer, thinking that the “Glue” must be black and white. It’s both so much simpler than I thought it was and so much more complex at the same time. And I think for me, personally, it’s made me unwilling to settle in a relationship; I want to be in a relationship that is worthy of a Glue film and I don’t want anything less than that.