The Dance of Connection

Rescuing women and men from the quicksand of difficult relationships.

Choose Joy

Marriage Rule #7: Remember the Sandbox.


Here’s an story I tell in Marriage Rules:

Two little kids who are playing together in a sandbox with their pails and shovels. Suddenly a huge fight breaks out and one of the kids runs away screaming, “I hate you! I hate you!” In no time at all they’re back in the sandbox playing together happily again.

Two adults observe the interaction from a nearby bench. “Did you see that?” one asks. “How do children do that? They were enemies five minutes ago. “

“It’s simple” the other replies. “They choose happiness over righteousness.”

 We can save ourselves a great deal of suffering if we strive to be more like those kids. Folks in long-term relationships have a terrible time stepping aside from anger and hurt, because our need to be right keeps us from getting back in that sandbox until the other person admits that he started it and is totally wrong. We lock ourselves into negativity at the expense of happiness and well-being.

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I feel calmed and relieved when my husband, Steve, knocks at my study door in the middle of a fight, put his arms around me, and says, “I love you. This is stupid. Let’s just drop it.” Many years ago, he invented a silly “1-2-3 let-it-go!” ritual that makes me laugh and melts my anger. It’s a relief when Steve chooses to be light and playful after we’ve gone round and round in a downward spiraling argument, sounding like idiots, even to ourselves.

Obviously there are times when we need to move to the center of a difficult conversation. Some issues need to be revisited, not dropped. We need words to heal betrayals, inequalities and ruptured connections. But about 85 percent of the time our best bet for relationship happiness is to remember the sandbox--and let those kids be our role model.


Harriet Lerner, Ph.D., is best known for her work on marriage and family relationships and the psychology of women. Her book The Dance of Anger has recently been reissued.


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