Comic book couple
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Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt, authors of Making Marriage Simple: 10 Truths for Changing the Relationship You Have into the One You Want, reveal a strategy they discovered in their own struggles, which can lead to a massive, permanent turnaround.

Most of us can identify the big, ugly problem in our marriage. It's that "the kids just went off to college" or "we're not having sex" or "he spends all his time at the basketball court" or "she doesn't like to travel to countries without plumbing" or "god, he never laughs." For decades, working as therapists in counseling sessions, Hendrix and Hunt heard hundreds of couples name that lone wrecking-ball that was bringing it all crashing down. They knew, of course, that the problem under discussion wasn't the problem.

The fundamental idea of Imago therapy, after all, is that people tend to marry the person that they hope will solve their own problems from childhood—a person who, paradoxically, often exacerbates those problems until the two learn to communicate. Who on earth can recognize that all alone?

And yet...they suspected still another kind of conflict was lurking around in most marriages, wreaking havoc. They weren't able to identify what it was, though, until their own relationship began to fray and falter. "It was a terrible time for us," says Hendrix. "We could hardly stand each other. We knew we loved each other, but neither of us felt loved, or even understood."

One day, they went to the bookstore. They'd exhausted all the sections that offered clinically acceptable advice about their situation, such as self-help and relationships. Instead, they decided to check out an area they'd never visited: astrology. On a back shelf, they found a book about the compatibility of couples based on their signs. The two were so desperate for help that they did an exercise in the back page. "The result was," says Hunt, 'You are going to destroy your relationship unless you suspend all negative scrutiny.'"

Yes, this was a book about horoscopes. Yes, these were two people with doctoral degrees, two professional therapists who considered astrology along the lines of hocus pocus. But whether it was fate or luck or just a very insightful analysis based on their birthdates, the message hit home—painfully. "All the blood drained out of my face," says Hunt. "I thought somebody must be watching us, that somebody must have set this up." Negativity was the root of all their problems—and they wondered if it was the root of their clients' problems, too. "We were so embarrassed we hadn't found this out in therapy," says Hendrix. "But, at the same time, it was a relief to know what was wrong."

Next: The experiment that may revolutionize your marriage