Soothe and affirm each other. Since this activity is an expression of vulnerability toward each other, each partner will feel some degree of apprehension. This can be an opportunity to support each other. Celebrate the sharing that just took place and what that means about the relationship. Verbal and physical demonstrations of caring and affection soothe and affirm.

Mary and Bill were energized by the hope they saw for their relationship.

Talk for 15 to 20 minutes about your dreams. Each partner should take time to reflect on the meanings of the dream statements. Each partner may then consider both dream statements and report what can and cannot be compromised. Each partner defines areas of flexibility and indicates the bottom line on what he or she is unable to yield on at this time. The test of the appropriate limits of what is acceptable is if either partner would resent “giving in” on a particular point.

Both Mary and Bill recognized that they were scared of repeating the dynamics they each had observed between their own parents — a bitterly angry wife married to a “workaholic” and passive husband.

As they continued to talk, Mary became aware of the fact that she felt angry about setting aside her dream, much as her mother felt angry about doing the same thing. Bill became aware that, like his father, he was disappointed that he no longer was “Number One” in his wife’s affection, so he put energy into his life outside the family. Unlike his father, Bill was angry about having to do that.

Devise a compromise that honors both dreams. Now that both partners have similar information about their enduring difference, they are in a position to come up with a solution that allows them to resolve the difference or permits each to “live with” the difference in comfort.

Mary recognized that she needed to give up being responsible for everything, to be more inventive about including Bill in the life of the family, and to make time for her relationship with Bill. Bill realized that he did not have to be “Number One” to be loved, but that he would have to join his family to achieve the happiness he was seeking.

Share your learning with one other. Participating in this process with your partner can tell you a lot about your relationship and how to enrich it. Talking about what you have each learned helps to prepare the two of you for the next time an enduring difference emerges.

Both Bill and Mary grew up in households where their mothers stayed home and “took care” of the family, so their expectations about appropriate marital roles do not square with the reality of their present circumstances. Change requires that they keep talking with each other, directly, honestly, and with affection.


Gottman, J.M., & Silver, N. (2000). The seven principles for making marriage work. New York: Three Rivers Press.

Shem, S., & Surrey, J.L. (1999). We have to talk: Healing dialogues between women and men. New York: Basic Books.