When Stan and Sue Gordon walked into the office of family therapist they thought their 20-year marriage was over. They simply wanted help in living through a divorce. “We love each other, but we can't live together,;; they explained. Before Therapist would agree to bury a marriage with love still alive, however, he asked the Gordons to go home and each answer one question “What is it like to be married to me?'' They were surprised. Obviously, Therepasit didn't understand the problem.
Each had a long list of complaints against the other. Sue was sure that evening would be all right if Stan were not so sensitive, so touchy. He was forever running off in a huff and leaving her alone. Stan insisted that he would stay home more if Sue were not so messy andsharp-tongued. Since airing these complaints had only made matters worse, they decided to give Therapist's crazy question a try. A few days later, Sue saw a calender carelessly tossed on the dining table.
She blew up. How could Stan chastise her for keeping a messy house when he was always cluttering it up with useless things. “Why did you bring that calender home?'' she yelled. Before Stan could respond, Sue realized that she, not Stan, had most likely left it there. Her instinct was to defend her error by saying, “Even if you didn't bring it home this time, it's just like you.'' Instead she asked herself, “What would it be like to hear what I have just said?'' The answer was obvious, and she told Stan, “That was nasty thing for me to say and I'm sorry'' Stan was startled. It was as though she had taken an unexpected step backwards in familiar dance, and he had to step forward to match her. He was totally disarmed. What once would have become a battle never got started. Over the years, Dunne's question has proved so effective that he has used it as a basis for a published guide to do-it-yourself therapy.
Step Number 1 in therepist's programme is to wrestle with the question, whether or not a partner is willing. Too many people make the futile and frustrating effort to change each other. For the Gordon's a messy house became a battleground because each saw it as the other's fault. Acknowldeging that you're part of the problem can work wonders. Therapist likes to describe the marriage relationship as a threesome – I, you and we. The we is similar to a bank account. “If, like Sue Gordon, you start depositing more in the we account, your spouse will try to match you,'' says Therapist.
Step Number 2 : Take a personal inventory. List your good and bad attributes. The exercise will help identify negative traits and behaviours in need of change. Seeing positive traits will prevent you from goind overboard with self-criticism. Married only four years, Ann andJim Birmingham were frigntened by the serious symptoms of stress in their relationship. With both of them working, theirs had been an exciting marriage until the arrival of their first child. They agreed from the start that Ann should stay home to take care of the baby, but they weren't prepared for the consequences. Jim was killing himself to make enough money to maintain their life-style, and Ann felt she was sacrificing her own talents to serve an absent husband and a demanding child. T
hey were always at odds. When they took a personal inventory, their preceptions changed Jim says, “I saw myself as running into the house always late, and asking Ann how her day had been, then getting on the phone again before she could answer. I had to say 'It must be horrendous to be married to me!' Ann could see a shrew in the making. With Therapist question always in mind, she began hearing her responses to Jim's arrival home - “Well, it's about time!'' - or to his phone call from the office that he would be late getting home - “Not again! You'll have to get your own dinner.'' No wonder he found it more pleasant to wrap himself in work; Ann wasn't much fun to come home to.
Step Number 3 is to share your efforts at improvement. Since this involves pointing a finger at one's self instead of the other, it creates an atmosphere for logical discussion, rather than arugument. Once the Birminghams had acknowledged that they shared equal blame for the stress in their relationship, Ann could say to Jim, “I've been getting angry at you because I couldn't handle my own frustrations,'' and Jim could answer, “I know how you must feel; you're doing a great job as a motherm but babies don't pat you on the back''
Step Number 4:act on your new knowledge. This is the most important step. The smallest actions can make a big difference when they are based on an intelligent understanding of a partner's point of view. Start with a behaviour that you find easy to change, Then move on to others that are more difficult. It was a major cirsis when Stan Gordon told Sue that he couldn't accompany her to the annual family gathering because he had to work. “I was very hurt,'' she says. “I felt abandoned and angry.
Before, I would have wept or raged. Instead I asked, “What is it like being married to me?'' once I put myself in Stan's shoes, I was able to say, “It's okay. I'll drive down alone'' Knowing how much the occasion meant to Sue, Stan suggested they fix telephone dates so he could pay respects to her family. From that point on, the Gordons stopped thinking of their marriage asa terminal. Each time one of them makes an effort to see things from the other's point of view, the underlying love in their relationship shows through.