Stronger at the Broken Places

How challenges can strengthen your relationship

Think You're Too Good for Your Partner?

You might want to think again.

Fran and Erik married when they were both very young. Fran had been a "Daddy's girl," always doted on and indulged by a father who treated her as if she could do no wrong. Erik adored her, and did everything he could to try to make her happy. Unfortunately, his efforts were often unsuccessful. Fran was never quite satisfied with Erik's offerings. She was often cold, aloof, and unresponsive to his many overtures of affection. One Christmas, Erik spent a lot of time deliberating over what to buy Fran as a gift. He went to nearly a dozen stores and finally chose a red dress he knew would look beautiful on her. He watched with eager anticipation on Christmas morning while she opened the gift, hoping that she would be as pleased with the dress as he was. As she lifted the dress out of its box he knew by the look on her face that he had failed again. Although Fran politely thanked him, Erik knew that she would be returning the dress. As she placed the cover on the box, he asked if she was even going to try it on? "It's just not my style," she said coldly.

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Erik was hurt. The event was a microcosm of their marriage: Erik giving the very best he had and Fran expecting him to know what she wanted, then judging him as failing to suit her expectations. A month later, Erik asked Fran for a divorce. She was shocked. Although Fran suspected that sooner or later they would divorce, she never thought that Erik would be the one to initiate. This hit her hard and provoked a process of painful self-examination that eventually led her to see how her impossible expectations had set up the marriage for disaster.

Erik went on to marry someone else by whom he felt appreciated. Over time, Fran came to understand and regret the pain she had inflicted on Erik through her inflated image of herself. She learned a hard lesson through the loss of her marriage. The red dress became a symbol that reminded her to not lapse into her old sense of entitlement in her future relationships. Over time, Fran gradually relinquished her throne of superiority, and she eventually remarried. She had become a kinder and more generous person in her second marriage. She learned the real meaning of the word “humility” and found that it didn’t require a sacrifice of her personal power or self-respect. She learned that it wasn't wise to look to her marriage to make her happy, but rather to use her relationship to become a more loving and fulfilled person.  

Linda Bloom, L.C.S.W., and Charlie Bloom, M.S.W., are the authors of Secrets of Great Marriages: Real Truths from Real Couples About Lasting Love.

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