Tracie Donahue is a spokeswoman for the California Healthy Marriages Coalition. Her first feature-length documentary, “Secrets to Love,” premieres at 7 p.m. on Aug. 14 at the Crest Theater as part of the Sacramento Film and Music Festival.
So tell me more about “Secrets to Love.”
“Secrets to Love” has Robin Givens, comedian Jack Gallagher and author John Gray. I went through a really bad divorce and I just wanted to do it right the next time, so I wanted to prevent anyone else from having to go through what I went through. In California alone, we spend $4.8 billion a year rehabilitating women out of poverty because of divorce and all the implications that come along with that. So it is relevant to us in our community and our state for why we would want to fix this.
What were some problems you found leading to bad marriages?
I think that women go into a relationship with a lot of fantasy. As little girls thinking about getting married and having that prince charming, it’s problematic because once you get married, that’s really not the reality of what happens. It’s a lot of hard work and effort to maintain a relationship.
Do the problems stem from any one gender?
Oh no. Men have their own issues and fantasies of what marriage will be. Jack Gallagher said in the movie that he thought it was gonna be a “whole lot of sex.” So men are thinking sex, and women are thinking this is my beautiful life, and then reality hits and it’s not that way.
Also, if you grow up in a family that is less than perfect and you’re having domestic violence or major chaos going on in your family, a part of your brain–the “love palette”– mixes with the negative part and when you go to seek love, when you go to seek that partner, that feeling of “Oh my god, I feel so in love” is a memory. So it’s a memory of what you feel as a child, so if you have a mixture of these emotions together in your love palette, you’re going to seek out the same type of patterns, unless you know they exist.
Robin Givens, for example, is the third generation of women that chose abuse. Not that she really wanted abuse, but that it naturally happened because of how the brain works. She felt like Mike Tyson fit like a perfect love. But you can choose differently. The positive thing is that even if you’ve experienced this negative behavior growing up, if you know it exists and you change that behavior, you can change it and you can find good, healthy positive love palette.
Do you think there any political side to the art of love?
There’s a new kind of movement out there called “marriage education.” This is the government’s answer to the forty percent of the women who go through divorce and end up in poverty. I was one of those women. So what they’re trying to do is teach people how to have better communication skills, teach them the realistic view of marriage. It’s not a fantasy view, and it’s more about getting to know about the people and learning how to communicate better as a couple.
You’ve done some grassroots work too?
I started here in Sacramento with the Sacramento Healthy Marriage Project, and now I am going to be working with the California Coalition for Healthy Marriage. It’s a really great positive movement that teaches people the basics of communicating with empathy and understanding, and learning new skills about how to be married and how to communicate in a positive way.
What is next for the coalition?
This is a film that we’ll take around the state, around the country, and hopefully around the world. There’s a lot of things the California group is doing to promote healthy relationships–classes you can take, listed on the Web site calmarriages.com and camarriage.com. A lot of community centers also have communication skills programs, and we’re hoping to get it in the school system.
Is there any way to outreach to the younger audience?
The film actually intended to go into the education system to teach people about how your hormones work and causes that attraction, and once you have it, how do you maintain this relationship. One part I found interesting for younger people, is the rate at which our brain matures. Men, for example, their brain won’t mature until the low twenties to mid twenties, and then women, from eighteen to low twenties. The last part of the brain to mature is the one that makes the best decision, so if that’s not matured, then you’re not going to make a good decision.
What is your overall message on marriage?
Inform yourself about healthy ways to communicate. Learning these things myself has changed how I communicate with my children and teach them that a positive pattern of communication is really important, because if you teach your children, then they can teach their children, and really it will change their communication and change their world.
You’ve mentioned previously that one potential dealbreaker in a relationship for you would be ‘drugs’ and ‘living with your mom.’ Does that still hold true?
Haha, well I guess a deal breaker would be someone who doesn’t communicate well enough and isn’t willing to change, or willing to try. And I guess… also living with your mom.