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Natural Awakenings

Relationship Repair: How One Couple Retrieved Their Love

Jan 31, 2011 02:34PM ● By Harville Hendrix

I counseled one couple—let’s call them Peter and Mary—who were on the brink of divorce. They run a coffee shop and bakery together; Peter is the primary businessperson and Mary is secondary. Mary works from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m., then goes home and makes dinner, which is supposed to be at 6 p.m.

Mary feels unappreciated by her husband for two reasons: “Peter never thanks me for fixing dinner, and he’s seldom ever home for dinner on time. I can’t seem to get him to understand that I need appreciation.”

Peter responds by saying, “I don’t think you should be thanked for doing what you’re supposed to do—I don’t expect you to thank me for doing my job. Second, there are often customers in the store when it’s time to close.”

It sounds like an easy thing to fix: He just needs to close up the store on time and say thank you. For them, it’s been a 20-year conflict that relates to something deeper. As we worked together, Mary remembered two things about her childhood: being told no man would ever love her and meet her needs, and that her mother never kept her promises. Peter noted that he grew up in a family where nobody said thank you and where boundaries weren’t set.

Both individuals had been dealing with wounds and defenses for so long that these mechanisms had become a lifestyle, and as a result they were close to divorce. As we continued the conversation, Peter said, “Well, I know about your mother, but I didn’t know I was treating you the same way she did. I really do appreciate your meals and I can see that it frustrates you when I don’t come home, because you feel valueless and dinner gets cold. Now I see I was delaying going home because I was dreading having the inevitable fight with you.”

The partners got clear on why they did what they did, and then made some simple adjustments. He was to come home at 6:30 p.m., and communicated, “I say I don’t need appreciation for the store, but I would like to be thanked for being responsible for the majority of our income.” She agreed. In their newfound mutual appreciation, the relationship took off like a new love affair.

When we stretch out of our comfort zones into our partner’s world, something magical happens. When we sustain that, we are in the real love phase of the relationship.


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