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30 Days Back to Love

Week One: Take the scenic route continued...

For many of us, marriage serves as the stage on which powerful psychological dramas end up playing themselves out. But they're most often transplanted into our relationship, not created by it. Knowing this should take a little pressure off you and your husband and let you breathe easier.

So if you think your spouse is being overprotective of the kids, for example, you might probe a little: "Maybe you're worried they won't make good choices themselves, or that they won't be able to compete and succeed. Is that why?" If your husband left a job without discussing his reasons with you first, you might say, "I wonder if you thought I would judge you, or pry too much. Maybe it felt like I would have made it hard for you to make your own decision about what to do."

The objective here is to begin tapping into your husband's innermost thoughts (and he yours), not to dramatically change him. It's about taking a step back and asking why the two of you developed the personality styles or behavior patterns that first attracted you to each other or that have created an element of conflict in your relationship.

Step 2. Remind yourself you don't know everything that makes him tick

I believe couples fall in love partly because they recognize each other's strengths and partly because they intuit that they have built-in, mirror-image emotional limitations to overcome. Step two is to find evidence in your early interactions (when you were dating) that proves that both the positive and negative qualities you've identified in your spouse were evident back then, too.

Maybe one of you is a little too demanding, and the other yields too easily. Or maybe one of you is sensitive to being smothered, while the other is so dependent that the idea of enjoying time alone is unimaginable. Yet couples usually don't get around to helping each other past these limitations for many years — if ever.

Now, it's time for you and your husband to take that leap. What memories do you have of the time you spent dating your husband that may reveal his and your underlying emotional needs?

You can explain this step to your husband this way: "Let's try to figure out whether we picked each other partly to help each other grow. Take your pet peeve about me. As you said, you're Mr. Clean and I'm Ms. Pack Rat. Did you see hints of that before we even got married? What do you think changed?"

One woman told me her husband had always been jealous of the men she dated before him. His possessiveness had made her feel special and loved, especially because her father hadn't been very involved in her life. But 12 years into the marriage, she felt more controlled than embraced. It wasn't until she and her husband tried the "back to love" steps that she started wondering what had made him so possessive. Only then did she feel like she needed — and wanted — to know even more about him.

There are buried treasures of insight that you and your partner have yet to unearth. By the end of week one, you've started discovering them. You aren't just looking at each other — you are looking into each other.

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