No matter how great the emotional makeup of your marriage, time and exposure to the more mundane details of life can leave even the best relationship looking a little worn. Maybe it's time for a...

Marriage Makeover (this five-day do-it-yourself kit comes completewith communication tools)

By Molly Hanson

Perhaps you had the same dream I did when you were a girl. Sometime later in life you were going to meet some wonderful guy, you were going to be soul mates, bar nothing. Meshed in here were dreams of a brilliant career, serious dreams. But the dream of being bonded for life to one man, of feeling safe, content, passionate, wholly known by this new best friend, was equally paramount.

And perhaps, like me, you were lucky. It happened more or less that way. You met that guy. You married him. You knew every detail about each other. You had days when you thought, cuddling in bed at night, head on your husband's shoulder, I am as happy as any woman on earth has a right to be.

Fast-forward to a few years and several kids later. Fast-track to my life, if you will. We're both in our mid-30s, married eight years. itÕs a great life on paper: two girls, charming house, a professor husband who's climbing the academic ladder like wildfire. A part-time job I enjoy as a newspaper writer. But behind the scenes things aren't quite so picture-perfect. We're increasingly stuck at a marital impasse: He's working killer hours, which is okay in and of itself-I support his dreams and admire his gusto-but I miss the way we used to spend time just being together. Increasingly, my career has been put on the back burner-in part, I admit, because I want to be there as much as possible for our two daughters.

Don't get me wrong. I love being with my children. And it's great to see my husband soar in the career he so loves. I shouldn't complain. But somehow I never expected that his working so hard would mean we'd be left with so little of the best friendship we once had. Truth is, I often feel like a single parent. I begin to wonder, What are his priorities, really? Am I anywhere near the top of the list?

The point is, no longer is my husband, Chris, the egalitarian marvel I once fell in love with. It's been a year or more since he's made a meal for the family (unless you count the occasional pot of spaghetti). After a 12-hour workday, he walks in expecting dinner-understandable after such a long day-but I could use some help as I pick up the array of strewn toys he so carefully steps over. There's no moment to connect with each other. No time. Night after night, while I fix dinner, he ekes out one more hour in his study before we've barely had a chance to kiss and ask, How was your day?" I feel our connection, our bond to each other, slipping away. Then, after helping put the girls to bed (an hour of the day he adores), he's off to his study to work some more.

To complicate matters further, Chris has just been offered a job 3,000 miles away. It's the career move of a lifetime-exciting for all of us-and we've agreed it's the thing to do. Yet such a big move requires a daunting amount of work-coordinating with real estate agents on two coasts, packing our household into boxes-that seems to highlight one thing: We're not really in this together anymore, Chris and I. As we make this tremendous change-uprooting ourselves from our neighborhood, the kids' preschool, our friends, my freelance work-he's the invisible man. We rarely talk about much besides the kids and the bills these days, and when we veer toward deeper conversations (that this move is stressful for me; how stressful his work has been lately), one or the other of us has something more pressing to do (a phone call must be made; a child falls and scrapes her knee). It's not as if we're miserable together, but we're coexisting in a mutually irritated state at best. And I worry, if this is the way it is now, how will it be ten years down the pike?

Sure, we've tried to hash out these things a zillion times, but the argument always ends the same: After a few days of holding it in, I lash out, calling him selfish and self-absorbed, and storm out of the room to his admonishments: "Why can't you be more supportive? You don't even seem excited about this move!" And more and more I seethe. Secretly, openly, what's the difference? Why, I can't help wondering, is the deadline for his next paper so much more important than my next deadline? And I sometimes ask myself, "Why does he assume I'm here to put food in front of him day after day when he rarely so much as fixes me a cup of tea?"

It didn't start out this way for us. I remember when we were first married, we'd cook and clean up together; I remember the cards he left for me in the mailbox for no particular occasion; the way he'd listen to me, stroke my back, ask me how my work was going; the way he appreciated the things I did to make our life run smoothly. Meanwhile, I've witnessed my feminist self becoming more and more whittled down into a '90s version of the '50s hausfrau: I have job responsibilities to boot. The woman behind the man. The good wife. The nurturing mother figure. No. The angry wife. I'm shrewish and I know it. And in my more forgiving moments I worry: How much fun is it to be married to me?

Hope for Change
And that's where we are, things between us steadily fraught with tension, when the hope of a little marital salvation comes our way. For years, as a reporter working on family life issues, I've heard stories about a woman said to be a modern marital miracle worker. Her name is Lori Gordon, Ph.D., and she is the founder of the international organization, PAIRS (Practical Application of Intimate Relationship Skills), a marital education course that (word has it) has turned around relationships ten times more troubled than our own. And now a friend calls to say that Gordon is offering her five-day intensive course in our area for the first time ever, and she'll be teaching it herself. Go, my friend tells me. This is a stressful time in your marriage. Tell Chris you won't take no for an answer. After some exhausting back-and-forth about whether Chris can take time off from work, he recalcitrantly agrees-out of fear, he tells me, that I'll never forgive him if he doesn't, but I also suspect that somewhere inside him, he too wants things to be the way they once were.

Day One: A Lesson in Bonding
Before we get to the down and dirty work of looking at the issues in our marriage, Gordon, who runs the workshop with her husband, Morris Gordon, Ph.D., (he also happens to be a rabbi, but this is not a religious program), asks us to take our chairs (there are several other couples here; we use only first names for the sake of privacy), put them back to back, sit down, and try talking. Chris and I chat for a moment or two, straining to hear each other over our shoulders, unable to connect physically, emotionally, eye to eye. Then she asks us, "How familiar does this feel?" I feel a wave of sadness rush over me. It feels way too familiar, miscommunication between my husband and me, the strained but futile effort to connect.

We re-form our circle afterward and settle in for Gordon's lesson on bonding and the "logic of love," in which she emphasizes: * It's important to understand that love is an emotion. Love is not a commitment or an obligation or a responsibility. You can choose to make a commitment based on feelings of love, but you cannot commit yourself to feel love for another person. * To feel bonded to another human being is one of our biology-based survival needs (like our need for food, clothing, shelter). Until recently, Gordon explains, researchers thought that only babies needed bonding to thrive, but now other studies have found that bonding is an essential survival need that we all retain throughout life. And yet, she stresses, as adults, bonding is the only survival need we can't meet by ourselves; we need a loving relationship to fill the void. * If you don't feel you have the loving relationship you long for, don't despair: In helping to turn troubled marriages around at PAIRS, the Gordons found that the difficult takes a while and the impossible takes only slightly longer. We all laugh, hopeful. * But here's the rub: When a relationship isn't going well, we react (as we do when any survival need isn't being realized) as if we're in danger: We have the physical and emotional reactions of a person who has suddenly been thrust into the cold without shelter as the freezing snow pelts down. After years of treating troubled couples, Gordon has found that we each use one of four types of "stress reactions" when a relationship is suffering. If you're a "Placater," you fear losing the relationship-so whenever you're angry, instead of voicing it directly you put up with it a little more and a little more (apologizing when it's not your fault, making nice even though you're furious). As a result, you may even become sick or depressed. If you're a "Blamer," You lash out with contempt and/or sarcasm, demolishing your partner by telling him what's wrong with him in excruciating detail. If you're "Super-Reasonable," you hide behind logic ("Well I read in a book that..."), statistics, and facts, sending the message that you won't reveal your own underlying feelings and you're not interested in his. Finally, if you're an "Irrelevant" type, you disappear (mentally, emotionally) when a problem rears its ugly head. Your philosophy is, "We're not here, the problem isn't here."

Of course, the ideal style of handling relationship stress is none of the above, but one which follows along the lines of, "I will tell you how it is for me without placating you, without blaming you, without ignoring you or the problem, and I want to hear how it is for you, too Chris and I agree that while this might have been our style early on in our relationship, we far too often slip into all-too-familiar roles: I become a Placater, though when I get steamed enough I become quite a wicked Blamer, or turn off all together (Irrelevant). He, on the other hand, tends to be a veteran Mr. Irrelevant. We recognize all too well that our relationship-stress styles are only driving us farther apart.

Day Two:
Getting Down to Business Now the real work begins. Gordon introduces us to "the wheel" (more formally known as the PAIRS Dialogue Guide), which sounds like a medieval torture technique. At first, the little blue wallet-size card she hands to each of us does look a little overwhelming: There are 17 "sentence stems" (you fill in the rest of each sentence as you talk to your partner) to ensure you have a constructive, loving conversation about even the toughest issues. The idea, Gordon stresses, is to use the wheel to confide a complaint without insulting your mate. She asks the "sender of the message" to air an issue using the wheel, while the "listener" merely mirrors back what he or she thinks the other person has said. It sounds confusing, but Chris actually seems to be looking forward to hearing what I might have to say.

Face to face, knees touching knees, holding hands, Chris asks me to start. I feel tentative, nervous, as I try to articulate why I feel so resentful lately: I notice that you don't seem to realize how much work is going into making this move happen. I assume you expect me to handle my fears about relocating alone. I wonder if it is difficult for you to offer emotional support to me. (Chris repeats what I've said to check whether he understands; I correct him until he's got it right, then give him a hug of appreciation before I continue.) I suspect that you don't think much about the sacrifices I'm making. I believe that because I don't feel appreciated, it's hard to get excited about going. I resent it when you tell me I'm not excited enough about this move. I am puzzled by why you expect me not to have any ambivalence about moving 3,000 miles away. I am hurt by the way you cut me off when I tell you I am sad about leaving friends and family behind.

At this point, I'm holding back tears, which surprises me. I hadn't expected such a textbook-like tool to move me at all. I forge ahead: I regret having to have this discussion. I am afraid, based on past experience, that nothing will change and I will get angrier. I am frustrated by your inability to acknowledge how your long work hours impact the girls and me. I am happier when you ask what you can do to help. I want you to allow me to express my mixed feelings about moving without chastising me. I expect based on past experience that you will find it hard to do that. I appreciate that you are listening to me so attentively now. I realize it's hard for you to find time to be there for me. I hope that in the future you can listen the way you are now. I look up, a little nervous as to what Chris's reaction to all this honest emotion might be. Surprisingly, he follows the rules and hugs me when I'm finished. Still, he seems upset. "Even though I want to understand, I feel angry," he says. "I just want to go into a shell; I don't know why."

At this point Lori Gordon, who has been canvassing the room and coaching, intervenes. She asks, "Are you distancing yourself because you want to be able to fix everything to assuage her fears about moving but you really don't know how to, and that makes you feel bad about yourself? So you get angry and tune out?"

Chris nods with recognition. "Bingo," he says. "I don't know how to make her feel more secure about this change. And I feel...inept." He squeezes my hand.

I stare at him, amazed to see there are tears in his eyes, too. I tell him, "You don't have to fix it. Just listen. And maybe do a little more of the grunt work."

"I think I can do both of those things," he says. He stands up and hugs me.

It's a beginning, a crack in the wall. During our lunch break, after Chris has taken his turn at the wheel, we go out with several other couples to a nearby restaurant. The bond that's building between us all is palpable. We've seen one another cry; we've offered words and hugs of encouragement; weÕve applauded when a couple embraces with a vehemence that portrays refound feelings of love. It feels reassuring to know we're not the only couple with so much hurt beneath the surface bursting to get out. We're also the youngest couple here: Most of the couples have been married two or three times as long as we have, and their marital misery far outstrips our own. Chris and I agree, watching them, that we never want to get to such a point. "It's great you're doing this now," one woman tells us, near tears. "Don't wait for twenty years the way we did, or it might be too late. We're hoping it's not too late for us."

After lunch, we start another exercise, called the Daily Temperature Reading, a way of checking in with our spouse each day. A way of keeping connected and making time to confide in each other, which is what keeps the bond between two people strong and alive, Gordon reminds us. We're to start off with an appreciation about our mate, then offer a piece of new information, reveal something that puzzles us, express a complaint with a request for change, and end with our wishes, hopes, and dreams.

Chris goes first (my only job is to stay silent, no repeating necessary). He says he appreciates all that I do with the children; he thinks I'm a wonderful mother, he appreciates the way I'm getting us ready for the move; the house hunting, the preschool search, the packing, the thousand calls a day that have to be made to make all this happen. For new information, he adds, "I'm looking forward to getting to know you better," and takes my hand. Electric. Then he says, "I'm also learning new information about myself-that I'm not in control of everything. That even if I know I can't make your fears go away, I can at least listen to them." And his puzzle is one I share: "I wonder why it is that we yo-yo so much in our marriage. We have a wonderful week and then a few days of bickering, and I don't enjoy the up and down. It's stressful." As for his complaint and request for change: "I don't want to yo-yo anymore; I want it to be better than that." He wraps up with his wishes, hopes, and dreams: "I hope that we can show the girls the kind of marriage that will teach them what it's possible to have in a relationship." By the time he finishes, I'm in tears (yes, again). Chris hasn't expressed appreciation for me in so long, I feel I'm drinking the drink of the parched. My only job now is to hug him (these are the rules) and say, "Thank you for telling me." An easy task. As Gordon reminds us, these daily temperature readings are not just for the other person to clue them into our thoughts, they are also for ourselves: We should do them for the pleasure it yields, for us to have the fulfilling relationship we long for. Bingo, as Chris would say. Bingo.

Day Three: Purging Our Anger
We are barely out of bed - the kids, who we picked up late at the baby - sitters, are, miraculously, still asleep-when Chris pulls out "the wheel." He wants to clear the air, get out some feelings he realizes he's been holding in.

And so he begins. The gist is this: He notices, he says, that I sometimes seem spoiled, that I grew up having a lot, and I still seem to expect to have a lot, and for him to provide it. (It's hard not to jump in to defend myself, but somehow I manage to seal my lips.) He suspects I have certain demands about new houses, new preschools, and so on. He is hurt by the fact that I never appreciate his efforts or the time that has to go into his work if he's to build a meaningful career. He is frustrated that I don't seem to notice how much he does do for the family, whether it's the laundry (which he often does, late at night, and which, I confess, I haven't really appreciated) or the networking with colleagues about good preschools. He hopes I understand that this is a stressful time for him, and that I can be supportive without being angry.

As he finishes, I am stunned to find that while much of what he said might normally have infuriated me, I actually heard him out with an open mind. So much of what he's said rings true to me; I haven't been appreciating him any more than he's been appreciating me. I realize, with some surprise, that while I thought our problem was simply that our marriage had become too traditional and inequitable, the bigger, more pressing problem was that I simply miss Chris, miss the sharing, the touching, the deep caring that once upon a time so vividly defined us as a couple. As we drive to the workshop, talking more about his fears, we hold hands in the car, something we haven't done in aeons.

Expressing Ourselves
The first mission on day three is to learn how to express anger to our partner in a constructive way. "We may tell ourselves we can keep a lid on it, stuff it away, but if you do so," Gordon promises, "your anger will leak out in passive-aggressive comments, dirty fighting, sarcasm, obnoxious or distancing behavior." But when couples release their anger, fear, and pain, they're then able to feel the depth of love they do have for each other, and it comes bubbling up from beneath that stifling rage. In other words, if you don't feel the intensity of your negative emotions, you might never feel the intensity of your positive ones. Sounds promising, but how does one dare to begin? First, Gordon says, you gently broach the subject by saying, "I have all this stuff inside me to get out-can you listen to me for two minutes?" Your partner (hopefully) agrees, you mutually set a time limit of between 30 seconds and two minutes, your partner "gives you physical space" (Gordon suggests he or she move across the room) and you let your anger fly. You can rage, rant, yell, stamp your feet, and, if you want, beat a toy bat on a big pillow (which, at the workshop, the Gordon happily provide).

Anger release rituals can be done in two ways: As a "Vesuvius": You're angry at the world rather than at your partner; perhaps someone rear-ended your car and you simply need to rage. Or as a "Haircut": You're mad at something your partner has done.

A number of couples in the room express doubt: Aren't they going to wound their partners for life if they say how angry they are? Gordon assures us that this, like the wheel, is another "safe" venue. She goes over two rules to remember: 1. the sender has to remind him- or herself that whatever anger he or she gets out, if it comes out straight, is a gift to the relationship, and 2. the listener must-no matter how hard it is-tell his or her partner (post Vesuvius or Haircut), "I'm glad you got that out; thank you." And then hug the person.

I urge Chris to go first, but he refuses. "You do it," he says.

"I don't feel angry," I say. Gordon urges me to try all the same.

Okay, okay, I say. I choose to do a Vesuvius, grab my bat, and head for the pillow. I'm not sure what I have to say, and to be honest, I feel a little silly. I take a swing with the bat. And then another. I hear my voice come out, tinny and whiny. This is silly. I start: "All I do all day is worry about the needs of other people. I never get to take care of myself!" (Whack!) "It's always about someone else! Everyone expects me to be superwoman, and I'm sick to death of it! You remind me that 'we' have to call the insurance company to find out about car titles and 'don't forget, we're out of packing tape!" (Whack!) "And I have to do all those things even though I work too because you're never there! And the kids need this and that and the dog is barking and I can't think straight and nowhere is there just five fricking minutes to think about myself!" (Whack!)

Suddenly the exercise isn't feeling so silly anymore. This is what bubbles up as I swing the bat some more: "I'm sick to death of it, of not being able to hear my own thoughts! I have no time for my own dreams!" (Whack!) "I used to publish short stories! I was creative! I had a life of my own!" (Whack!) "Now it belongs to you and you use it up! You use me up! And there's not a damn piece left for me! I feel like a shadow!" (Whack!) "Your shadow!" (Whack!) "Everything revolves around you!" (Whack!) And suddenly I am sobbing, only dimly aware that my Vesuvius has turned into a Haircut. Chris comes over to me, visibly moved. He holds me and I feel such a release, such a sob from the bottom of the well within, rising to the top, that I don't care if the whole room is watching. Besides, most of them are too busy crying and holding each other to notice much else.

Day Four: The Past and How It Haunts Us
Today we explore the hurts and losses in our pasts that give us "emotional allergies" to things our partner does (unwittingly) in the present. Gordon asks us to think about a behavior of our partner's that usually infuriates us. Meanwhile, she will help us-by taking us through a list of open-ended questions-to see how our emotional allergies are connected to painful early memories. She asks us to lie down with our partners, holding them, as we begin. Chris volunteers to go first, and so I hold him tightly as he tells me, guided by Gordon's questions, something along these lines: Each time I'm angry with him I grow distant, and it infuriates him. It makes him feel hurt, inadequate. As a child he remembers his parents working extremely long hours; he was raised, more or less, by the nanny. He still remembers standing in the driveway, waiting for one of his parents to drive in, and the nanny saying, "Not yet, Chris." To make matters worse, his grandfather, who lived with them, and who was his surrogate parent in many ways, died unexpectedly at home one afternoon in his sleep from a sudden heart attack. Chris was the one who found him. He never got over that loss. The idea of people not being there, disappearing emotionally and otherwise, without explanation, has left a raw place in him, an emotional allergy that my angry aloofness triggers.

And then he reminds me of something I haven't thought of for a long time: When we were first dating, ten years ago, we had a disagreement over something fairly major and I didn't want to see him for a while. I didn't tell him why, I just shut him out (something I'm not proud of now). It's a distant memory in my mind, but he says those five weeks were the hardest five weeks of his life. He tells me now something he never told me before: He went to see a shrink back then; he was that upset, his emotions were that out of control. He felt bereft. We reconciled soon after, but the impression of my leaving without explanation, and what it could do to him, and the hurt he felt, has never left him. So that now, each time I get angry, silent, and distant, he starts to worry that I might leave. And that fear makes him withdraw, become irritable, shut himself away in his work even more, because he's trying to build up a wall against ever feeling that kind of hurt again. It's now his turn to cry, something I haven't seen him do in years. I hold him as tightly as I can, saying, "I didn't know, I didn't know." There are tears running down both our faces.

On the way home Chris tells me, "Now I know that if you left me I wouldn't just wilt or be miserable, I would just die."

"Ditto," I say. We reflect over the day, both exhilarated and exhausted by the unprecedented intimacy we feel. We agree, the intensity of understanding and love we feel for each other after only four days of this workshop is shocking-and wonderful.

Day Five: Backstepping
We wake up in the morning and after a long, languorous cuddle in bed, we get ready to head out for our final morning of PAIRS. We've done four intensive days of exploration, sharing, and bonding that have not only reminded us of why we fell in love but brought us closer than I can remember being in a long, long time-if ever. Even the girls seem giddy around us, as if our joy in life, in each other, is infectious. As we head out for the long drive across the city, we start to do the assignment that Gordon has given us to complete and bring back for one last PAIRS exercise. It's a fun one: to come up with an Inner Cast of Characters that reflect our different moods and frames of mind. You will be surprised, Gordon says, to see how many various aspects of yourselves emerge in daily life: at play, at work, under stress, at rest, when you feel confident, when you feel loving or sexy, when you are embarrassed, when you are angry, and so on. Then, when you put your list together next to your partner's, you can begin to see how each of your different inner characters can reinforce or provoke each other-and affect your relationship.

We begin in a spirit of fun. My characters, I decide, are the Comforter (reassures others, takes care of family), the Dreamer (creative, imaginative), Elizabeth Barrett Browning (poet, romantic lover), the Fan (believes in others, cheers them on), the Go-Getter (sets tough goals and accomplishes them), the Nature Child (loves to be in nature), the Judge (critical, rigid, perfectionist), Katharine Hepburn (aloof, proud, skeptical, unforgiving), the Lost Child (hurt, wounded), Louisa May Alcott (writer, solitary, loves children), Superwoman (juggles a huge amount for sake of family), Nana (sensual), and the Love Crusher (distant and rejecting if hurt).

Chris listens to my list and then makes up his own. Rodney Dangerfield (the kidder, teaser, joker), the Zen Monk (solitary, contemplative, wants to be on his own), the Rebel (oppositional, contrary, rebellious), Jack London (wants to venture alone, have new adventures to test himself), My Three Sons Dad (loves his kids, takes great joy in them), Jimmy Stewart ("it's a wonderful life" attitude, sometimes, he says, used as a way of pretending there's no problem), Walt Whitman (loves life, mystic, solitary, unafraid), and Mr. Spite (vindictive, grudge holder).

After he finishes his list I am quiet. I tell myself it's a little thing, but nevertheless it hits me hard that while half my list pertained to us, to our life together, to nurturing the family, a number of things on his list (but for the My Three Sons Dad character) had to do with adventuring alone, being alone?and not a damn thing had to do with who he is in our relationship. Here I am, the Fan and the Comforter, and he's Jack London and the Zen Monk. Oh, I know in my own mind I am making a mountain out of a molehill. But it's salt in the wound of my already hurt feelings after months of his long work hours, this inattention to the details of our family life.

In a flash, I go from Elizabeth Barrett Browning mode to the Love Crusher. Sensing my mood shift, Chris asks what's wrong once or twice-but after a few icy replies from me he withdraws, irritated. The rest of the drive takes place in stony silence. I am distant, trying hard to manage the irate thoughts ricocheting inside my head. We arrive at our wrap-up morning of PAIRS in total meltdown. I half-recognize how silly my reaction is, how extreme, and yet after months of feeling such pain, so lonely in our relationship, I realize I still have a sore spot. A raging sore spot. He's such a selfish jerk he can't even see how self-absorbed his list of characters is, I tell myself. Jerk, jerk, jerk.

Lori Gordon sees our faces and asks us what's up. I stare at the floor. Chris tells her, "I really want to understand why she's so upset. I feel like we're losing all the ground we gained here. And I don't like it." Gordon has an idea; she asks other couples to volunteer to be our "inner characters" and assigns them names from our lists. She starts to direct a small play in front of us-our cast of inner characters on stage. Before our eyes, we see our characters play out our varied moods. Jack London arrives on stage and talks about his need to adventure and chart new paths in his life. My Love Crusher comes on stage and gives him a cold, withering stare. "You're so selfish!" she says. His Jimmy Stewart heads over to my Love Crusher and asks her, "Why are you complaining? We have a wonderful life!" My Lost Child comes out and puts her head in her hands, about to cry. His Zen Monk heads off to the corner of a room, opens a book, and reads by himself. My Katherine Hepburn stares him down indignantly. It's a hilarious scene and soon we are all laughing. Well, I'm sort of laughing.

Chris pipes in again. "When she's furious with me sometimes I don't know what's going on and it makes me nervous. So I shut down." He looks at me.

I burst into tears, shocked at how deep my feelings run. "The thing I need most from you is for you to be there for me. But it's not even on your mental list of who you are!" I am embarrassed by my tears, but the group-with whom we have closely bonded by now, coaching one another through many of the exercises-is sending extremely supportive vibes. Chris puts his arm around me, stroking my back.

Gordon pipes in. "Chris, you do take on that best friend role, we've all seen it here this week. Who is that character?"

"The Good Buddy?" Chris ventures.

"Yes," I say. "That's the one I married. My best friend. And lately he hasn't been home a lot. Not until this week anyhow."

Gordon ventures in again. "But part of the reason he's been there this week is that you've been sharing your emotions with him-haven't you?"

The cycle suddenly seems so clear (and shamefully immature). "It would help me a lot," he says now, "if when you're upset, you could use the wheel. Trust me to use the tools we've learned this week until we work it out."

"I can do that," I say, suddenly realizing that in one short five-day period we have learned the tools to help us do so many things we never knew how to do before, despite having lived together for a decade. If only we can remember to use them. ---- Well, it's been a month now. And we are true to our temperature reading every day (okay, almost every day). One or the other of us will start it, as soon as the kids are in bed. Chris's appreciations always shock me. The little things I thought he never noticed are more than apparent to him-he notes them, he gets it, my high-wire act. But the more we do our daily temperature reading, the more we find that we have no complaints about each other to share; our complaints are all about the world, other people. Moreover, I've developed a compassion for him, for all that is on his plate, for his dreams and how hard he's working to achieve them, that I didn't have before. Where once I felt anger and resentment, I'm now fully on his side. I fix him snacks when I know he hasn't eaten; I rub his back; I confide my feelings to him-and he to me-in a way we haven't in years. And when he does the laundry, or takes the girls for the afternoon to the park so I can have a moment to think straight, I am aware. I say thank you.

The tools that on paper might once have sounded so silly are now a daily part of our marriage. And we are grateful for them, for the way they are helping us build something we were, I believe, unlikely ever to forge by ourselves.

It's a little like building a dream house, I guess. If you abandon the tools, you might be able to fashion something out of brick and mud with your bare hands, but it may not be sturdy enough to call home for long.

This is home for us both now-East Coast, West Coast, it doesn't matter much. It's wherever we are, together. It's the right place to be.


What's your relationship-stress style?
When a relationship isn't going well, says Gordon, people are likely to have the same physical and emotional response they would if in real, physical danger. Which of these four basic "stress styles" do you and your partner fall into?

A. The Placater. You fear losing the relationship, so whenever you're angry instead of voicing it directly, you put up with it a little more and a little more (apologizing when it's not your fault, making nice even though you're furious). As a result, you may even become sick or depressed.

B. The Blamer. You lash out with contempt and/or sarcasm, demolishing your partner by telling him whatÕs wrong with him-in excruciating detail.

C. The Super-Reasonable Type. You hide behind logic ("Well, I read in a book that ..."), statistics, and facts, sending the message that you won't reveal your own underlying feelings, and you're not interested in his.

D. The Irrelevant Type. You disappear (mentally, emotionally) when the problem rears its ugly head. Your philosophy is, "We're not here, the problem isn't here." You distance yourself as much as you can.

For more information on PAIRS (both semester long courses taught nationwide, as well as the new five- day intensive and weekend bonding workshops) call: (800) IS PAIRS. Or check out their Web site at The cost is $1,190 per couple. For more information on marital education courses in general, contact the Smartmarriages website (which provides extensive information on hundreds of programs nationwide): _________________________
Follow the guideÉ
Sure, it's risky, but this is an exercise we encourage you and your partner to try at home. Just make sure you follow a few rules:

* Sit face-to-face, knees touching, holding hands,.

* One of you begins to articulate a problem or a feeling you're having, using the following sentence stems as a guide. Be sure to pause after completing every two stems so that your partner can repeat back to you what you've said. If he repeats your thoughts in a way that doesn't reflect your meaning, explain yourself again until what he says accurately reflects your thoughts. When he gets it, give him a hug and say "thank you" and continue until you've completed all the stems.

1. I notice (a behavior)? 2. I assume this means? 3. I wonder? 4. I suspect (about you) É 5. I believe? 6. I resent? 7. I am puzzled by? 8. I am hurt by? 9. I regret? 10. I am afraid of (based on past experience)? 11. I am frustrated by? 12. I am happier when? 13. I want (specific request) É 14. I expect (based on past experience) É 15. I appreciate? 16. I realize? 17. I hope?

The Daily Temperature Reading
Taking a little time every day to read how you're doing as a couple will help lower the mercury on your fever-pitched fights and let the heat rise at more "appropriate" moments?.

* Appreciation Express an appreciation (about your spouse or about something good in your life).

* New information Offer a bit of new information (about something you're feeling or something that happened to you-an experience from your past that you want to share).

* Puzzles Talk about something that puzzles you, an issue you're working to understand (it doesn't have to be about your relationship-it might just be a quirky thing your boss said to you that day).

* Complaints with requests for change Talk about something that's bugging you (it doesn't have to be something your partner did, though if you are irritated about anything, this is a good time to articulate it.) It's much easier for someone to hear a complaint after you've fully appreciated what they're doing right, and after you've just bared your soul to them a little (in other words, you've bonded). Talk about how you'd like this particular thing to change. ("It irritated me that you handed me all our insurance files and told me to take care of it. I have a long list of things to do right now; maybe you could handle this?").

* Wishes, hopes, and dreams Now, to wrap up, talk about your hopes about anything you'd like to see happen-to you, to your relationship, at work, with your family. It can be a hope for today or for five years from now. It's up to you.

Rant, Rave, and Rage
Really, we insist. When couples release their anger, fear, and pain, they're better able to feel the depth of love they do have for each other. So when you or your partner are ready to let a few pent-up feelings fly, first remind yourselves that whatever anger comes out-as long as it comes out straight-is a gift to the relationship. Then control the experiment by following these steps:

1. Gently broach the subject: "I have all this stuff inside me to get out-can you listen to me for two minutes?"

2. Set a (mutually acceptable) time limit between thirty seconds and two minutes, during which your partner stands across the room.

3. Pick one of two release styles: In a "Vesuvius," you scream out your anger at the world; in a "Haircut," you express your anger at something your partner has done. Then rage, rant, yell, stamp your feet, or even beat on a big pillow.

4. The listener must-no matter how hard it is-tell you, "I'm glad you got that out, thank you." And then he has to hug you.

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