Duchovny’s Hell or Highwater- Relationship Therapist’s Analysis

by Dr. Karen Ruskin on August 5, 2015

If you have not already heard the news that heart throb actor/celebrity David Duchovny released his debut album, well then I am here to say from the lens of this Marriage and Relationship Therapist – check out specifically the song: ‘Hell or Highwater’! In today’s blog article I discuss this specific song in David’s album entitled: ‘Hell or Highwater’. As a Mental Health Professional/Psychotherapist who has been counseling couples and individual men and women since 1993, I must say, this particular song is a powerful display of what many women experience in their relationships and men struggle with. David’s song ‘Hell or Highwater’ many couples will identify with and relate to as it is representative of many couple’s struggles. In this blog you will find what I believe are key lyrics men and women will identify with of whom are experiencing marital duress, along with my commentary. Topics addressed in this blog includes:

  • Women’s disappointment with their mate
  • Dr. Karen Ruskin is a fan of David Duchovny
  • Men identify with David’s lyrics
  • Why women go to couples counseling
  • How can couples counseling help couples?
  • Can a couple’s problems be washed away to emerge beautiful again?
  • The promise to try
  • Can you see the light? The couple’s future
  • Marriage Tips
  • Kudos to David for ‘Hell or Highwater’

Women’s Disappointment With Their Mate

Many women in a long term committed relationship come to counseling due to their disappointment in their mate. The fairy tale that one’s husband is going to more often then not and consistently make you feel safe and happy, that one’s mate is always going to do good never bad, that the relationship is always going to feel healthy never emotionally ill – is, well, a fairy tale. Most couples experience challenges, times of ill vs. health, experience one another’s bad side and good side. Though I’d like to believe that the feeling of safety is always in all couples, I know all to well given the various life stories I have heard in my work with couples that the reality is, it is not. And, one’s mate does not always do things that lead one to feel happy. Therefore, David’s song which addresses these notions succinctly and directly with his usual appeal I believe shall be quite relate-able and identifiable for many couples.

David’s lyrics state that he has “done some good” and “bad”, and sings that he can’t make his mate “feel safe and sound”. Like many women, when confronted with this reality, they are devastated. And, like many men who realize they are not able to be the man they thought they could be, being confronted with this reality leaves them feeling stuck. It is relationships that experience the build up of these very challenges over time that leaves them feeling like they are in hell. Thus, unfortunately, many couples struggle with how to get out of this very hell they find themselves in, since relationship patterns and unhealthy couple functioning is hard to change. It is not as easy as just the snap of one’s fingers to make changes, as shifts require the knowledge of what the problems are as well as what to do to change the problem cycles. And, then with consistency over time to implement those very changes. The hurt that many women report in counseling and the pain they experience due to their mate not meeting up to the standard of what they wanted and still want and feel they deserve in a relationship is a common problem that brings couples into counseling where the woman is the “complainant”.

Although each couple’s presenting scenario is different and unique, within that, there are absolute similar themes. A woman’s hurt and pain, sorrow that one’s husband has been “bad” is a similar theme for many women. A man struggling with how he is going to help the couple to find their loving place again after all they have been through is a similar theme and challenge for many men.

Marriage & Relationship Therapist Dr. Karen Ruskin – Fan Of David Duchovny

In case you were wondering, I am a fan of David’s acting talent/style. David is best known for his role as FBI Special Agent Mulder in the TV show ‘X-Files’. He is also known for his character Hank Moody in ‘Californication’ and most recently his newest show: LAPD Detective Hodiak in ‘Aquarius’. I strongly believe he has the kind of talent that draws his audience into the reality of the characters he portrays. In each show I have watched him in, I find him captivating in his realism. As such, it makes sense that I was curious about his venture into the musical world. Thus, I listened to ‘Hell or Highwater’. Once I heard the song, I determined it was important to me through my professional lens as a Marriage and Relationship Therapist to take the time to share it with my readers, as I believe many will find it identifiable and meaningful for them. That’s the beauty of music, is it not? The beauty of music is it’s relate-ability, and how it brings connection and emotion for the listener. Often through music, the listener feels less alone knowing that others experience what they do. Also music offers insight. Humans often confront their own emotions and thoughts in a way they may never had, had they not heard it through song. Lyrics and rhythm, tone and sound, melody and intensity – all play a part in one’s listening experience and can be quite therapeutic.

Men Identify With David Duchovny’s Lyrics

David sings that he’s “done some good” and “done some bad” and explains “like any man I bet”. Indeed, many men will relate to this. Men hope their mate will see the good too and not get lost in and drown in the relationship due to the bad. Though it is all too common that when there has been bad that continues over time, women experience a full beaker. When a woman’s beaker is full, over time she bubbleth over and it is hard once that happens for the couple to see where to go from there. It is extremely challenging at that point for many men to know what to do, how to win their gal back feels like a battle that holds an unforeseeable future.

Why Married Women Go To Couples Counseling

David sings that he “can’t make it rain.” He sings that he “can’t make it shine” and further sings that he “can’t turn this shit storm we’re in, to some rainbow sun shower of holy red wine”. These lyrics are quite powerful and symbolic for exactly what many couples experience. It has been my experience in my work with couples who are struggling, specifically when the presenting problem that they come to counseling for is that the wife is the complainant regarding the husband, she longs for him and expects him to find a way to make things better, to make things right. In essence, the wife desires the man to make it rain or shine, and to indeed turn the “shit storm” into “holy red wine”. Thus it is not uncommon for married women, or women in a committed relationship, to go to couples counseling in the hopes that a trained professional/a third party, can help her to have her voice heard by her mate, get a better understanding of her mate’s thoughts and feelings, and ultimately receive help for how the couple can find their way back, or discover a new healthier route. The husband in these type of scenarios feels stuck, for he truly does not know how to make it rain nor shine. Men often feel trapped that there’s nothing he can do to make things right and hopes that the counseling experience can be a helping agent.

How Can Couples Counseling Help Couples?

In session, as a couple’s therapist I try to help couples to confront the “shit storm”, and to learn from the “shit storm”, to grow and to prevent the “shit storm” from happening again. In essence I help them to discover and acknowledge and take ownership of what role they have each played to get them to where they are, and what has gotten them to feel like they are in what David accurately references as a “shit storm”. I also help couples to consider and discover what their version of “holy red wine” would look like to them, how to get there, and what concrete steps they can each try to take to get there. In essence, I help couples to determine what their mindful awareness must be, what cognitive thoughts are imperative, and what behavioral action items they can take that would be the difference that can make the difference to help them to get to where they want to be.

Can A Couple’s Problems Be Washed Away To Emerge Beautiful Again?

The words David belts out in what is reminiscent to me of 70’s rock, which is the generation I grew up in, so it goes down smooth and I thoroughly enjoy the rhythm, the tone inflection, the beat, the melody, he sings: “I said I’d love you forever come hell or highwater, well babe the flood’s in . . . ” – oh my, listen to that! Indeed, when couples come for counseling the flood is in! The notion that the flood is in and that love can potentially bring a couple to find one another again, rather than drown, is a powerful inference.

David then further sings in a passionate manner: “Take my hand fire purges let the river wash us clean of our sins”. I love this, as it is a powerful reminder that both members within the couple unit are in need of cleansing, both have done things that have hurt the couple. In ‘Hell or Highwater’, David offers his hand. Ultimately that is often what I see women want in their relationship, yearns for and need. Women want for the man to reach out to her to work towards a brighter future.

David then further sings: “I’ll see you all in white again, we’ll beat the devil, all ill will be well.” This is very interesting for is that not ultimately what couples yearn for? Couples yearn to be seen through the lens of one another as white again, right? To be seen by the other in the purity of which one fell in love with one another, rather than seeing each other through the darkened lens that has been their reality for too long. Seeing one another through a positive lens, seeing one another through the lens of the beauty and desire one had for one another to re-emerge, IS exactly what couples desire. If but only “all ill”, as David so eloquently put it in his song, could be well. I shall share with you, THAT IS what the couples that come for couples counseling are hoping for. They are indeed hoping that the ill can turn to well.

The Promise To Try

Another interesting part of ‘Hell or Highwater’ is when David sings from what sounds like such a real place, an honest place, an experienced place: “I won’t wipe away the tears you cry with any tissue of lies. You can build your life on empty promises or with a man who promises to try”. Ahhh, this is so symbolic for many couples. I share with the men and women I counsel that if they ‘try to try’, if they sincerely do whatever it takes to ‘try to try’ they will experience growth and relationship enhancement. Through honesty, couples grow. Through trying to try, couples have the increased potential to grow. From acknowledgment of the role they have each played in the decline of the couple relationship that has gotten them to this painful place and through the journey of taking ownership of what action they can take to help the couple and one another, couples grow.

Couples who are in a very painful place as they enter therapeutic treatment, can indeed come out victorious when they put in the effort, when they try to try. In couples where there has been hurt, whether it is from betrayal (e.g., cheating), or from addiction, or from one or more of the many other challenges couples face, often the woman reports the pain of past promises that never came to fruition. Thus, certainly as David sang; “I won’t wipe away the tears you cry with any tissue of lies” -indeed, the tissue is the tissue of the promise to try. This very notion is hard for couples who have been through pain and trauma and tragedy. The woman who has been hurt wants to be reassured that no hurt will ever happen again. Though the fact is, actions and words with consistency over time is what will show her who her man now is, in contrast to the pain that was. Words are important though not enough. Words plus actions with consistency over time is a very significant piece of the solution puzzle, this is the concept I help many couples to digest.

Can You See The Light? The Couple’s Future

In ‘Hell or Highwater’ David sings: “I’m not even sure I can see the light to get us off this goddamn dead end road.” Oh yes indeed! When couples come for counseling, this is exactly what men report, in their own way of course, though ultimately this is what they are saying, which is why they feel so vulnerable and lost. Which is where I come in as the marriage therapist who is vested in their couple-hood. I can see that there is light. When couples are feeling so darkened by their own situation that they are not sure if they can see the light, when couples have lost their optimism, having a therapist that can see the light, having a therapist who is cheering for them has been reported to me by the couples that I work with as an important piece of the puzzle. Couples have told me that when they felt like they didn’t believe in themselves, that my believing in them and seeing the future of what they can be, helped them to believe in themselves.

I am a huge believer that when couples are willing to try to try, with motivation, passion and willingness to do what it takes, with a re-commitment to one another – amazing things can indeed happen. I help couples to find their “white” again. I help couples to heal from what was and wash themselves clean of their sins, if we are referencing the style of words David used in his song. In essence, I help couples to help themselves wash themselves, for there is no river that can do it for them, THEY are the river. They make it right again, they get out of their “shit storm” and find their “rainbow of sun shower of holy red wine.” They “beat the devil” and discover how to be well again. Which ultimately is quite empowering for couples who navigate through this journey.

Marriage Tips

Do you relate to ‘Hell or Highwater’ and yearn for do-able marriage tips? Do you desire concrete insights, practical and do-able tips? Committed relationships at any phase and stage whether newlyweds or together for 30+ years, all couples need a little help now and again. That’s not something to feel embarrassed about. Be proud if you seek out help, for taking action is courageous and necessary for growth. Looking to help your relationship find its way back from hell? Have a solid relationship and simply looking for enhancement? Want to increase the odds that your relationship stands the test of time and does not simply survive and rather thrives? I believe in marriage and the courage in couples to do what it takes, which is what drove me to write a tell-it-like-it-is book to help couples help themselves: Dr. Karen’s Marriage Manual. Far too many couples decline over time and feel stuck. Many couples feel as David sang: “I’m not even sure I can see the light.”

I have been told by those of whom have read Dr. Karen’s Marriage Manual that it has truly helped them, and for that I am thankful for and feel privileged to touch the lives of the many. Take a sneak peek into my book if you desire tips to enhance your relationship, find your way back, or continue on your way forward: Marriage Tips.

Kudos To David Duchovny For ‘Hell or Highwater’

Thumbs up and kudos to David Duchovny for utilizing song as a way to present what many couples are navigating, in what shines through as a very honest and real way, and was felt by this Marriage/Relationship Therapist. Now if but only there was some way to let him know that his song is quite meaningful for what many couples go through and thank him for expanding outside of self and thus providing this piece for others to hear. Twitter perhaps? lol.


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