Mutuality is the secret to a happy marriage.  Though, I once heard it said, that the secret to a happy marriage was to have no secrets, which is the essence of mutuality, mutual respect, love, and validation.

The early stages of love are mainly based on projected material.  In this case, A projection is the ideal of what we want in a relationship that we place upon the other.  In reality, we are really falling in love with ourselves.

In the beginning, we view the relationship through rose-colored glasses.  This is the time, in relationship, when one sees the best of who he or she is in the other.  It is this feeling, which creates the charge that one experiences as desire.  After marriage, one redeems the projection and discovers that sometimes love is there, but often it is not.  The rituals of marriage signal that a change is afoot, and one has, in a sense, formed a new creation.

True to the creative process, anxiety for the unfamiliar arises usually in the first year of marriage.  It is here, that the expectations from one’s family of origin, influences impacts, and often interferes with the new relationship. By understanding, not only your family’s patterns, but also those of your mates, you are more likely to find a meaningful approach to communication.

Pay attention.  Get to know your partner.  The way to know your mate is through not only listening, but hearing what he tells you about his feelings.  You can learn to understand your partner, through the quality time you spend together.  These shared experiences have the opportunity to build trust.

Trust in fact, is based on experience.  Mutual respect for each other’s feelings, as well as opinions and outside relationships, make each partner feel accepted for who they are. When you reclaim your projected material, both partners will have a better chance to build a healthy relationship.

Because the positive and the negative qualities of your family of origin sets the tone for your adult relationships, knowing yourself is as important as learning about your mate. If as a child, a spouse had a controlling parent, for example, then he or she may feel out-of-control as an adult. Which in turn can make him into a controlling adult. Thus, such partners often gravitate toward controlling mates, who represent the familiar patterns of their childhood.

The patterns of your family of origin become your comfort zone, the habitual patterns, that you have mastery over.  Hence, when one recognizes a familiar pattern, such as control, he or she feels capable of dealing with that behavior pattern… because they recognize and know it.

In all of our lives, from birth to death, there are only two people: mother and father.  All of our relationships are based on them.  Therefore, if one can gain greater insight into the familiar patterns of childhood that exist between mother and father, then one could recognize and integrate those childhood patterns and, thus, no longer seek them in relationships.

By acknowledging, recognizing, and understanding not only your own family patterns, but that of your partner’s, now you have the chance to bring those learned behaviors to consciousness. And, such recognition can stop the repetition. This allows for a new model of behavior between you and your spouse, enabling you both to form a mutual and healthy relationship.

You and your partner are ready to create a new family, when you both take conscious control of your respective lives. This allows a focus on the difference between the wants and the needs of each partner in relationship. Therefore, if you focus on your needs, which are based on the impression left by your original family unit, then you could juxtaposed those needs against what you want in your new family.

As a result, couples can create with each other a new “normal” for their family.  This new normal should consist of something healthy that will work for both partners in relationship.

One must first recognize how each partner’s family resolved conflicts in the past.  Were conflicts repressed or brought out in the open?  Were the family members involved discounted or demeaned during the conflict?  What role did each partner play in his or her family, and how did each partner feel about the way conflict was handled in his or her family?  Identify the styles of conflict resolution in both families, especially how individuals within the family communicated, so that one can acknowledge, recognize, understand, and thus redefine a healthy relationship.

The Empathic Process

The empathic process is a noteworthy style of communication.  I developed the empathic process as a viable way for two people, in a relationship, to build a new pattern of dialogue that is healthy and successful for both.

  1. The empathic process

Find a neutral location, preferably the kitchen, which is the heart of the house and a place where alchemy happens rather than someone’s office, bedroom, or place of power.

2. The rules of engagement in the empathic process include:

  • How to successfully communicate
  • The rules of engagement in the empathic process include both intimacy and respect.  Each person speaks a third of the time while making physical contact during communication to maintain an intimate atmosphere.  Both partners maintain eye contact during communication.  At no time, does either partner defend against accusations sent their way.
  • The last third of the time is used for mutual conversation with both partners invested in the successful outcome of their dialogue.  This approach can be used weekly, at a set time in a set place, and as a time for reviewing the week’s problems and mutually solving them.  As a result of the empathic process, a safe place is created, in which both partners can return at any time.
  • Know your mate
  • Never use confidential information as a weapon while fighting.  If you ask your mate to tell you honestly what he or she thinks of you, only to turn around and use it against him or her, trust will be broken and intimacy injured.
  • Also, pay attention to your partner’s feelings and refrain from saying hurtful or reactive things.  You can win the battle, but lose the war by damaging esteem and demeaning your partner.
  • Time in rather than time out

Know yourself and develop coping skills that allow you to meet your own needs rather than have your partner meet them.  It is important to accept your partner, the person you love, as he or she is.  No one wants to perform for approval. And in a healthy relationship, each partner is free to express his or her love in a way that is natural for her.

  • Agree to, not always agree, but to walk together.

The human dilemma is that we are all different and cannot agree about everything, even if we are in love. What is important is that we respect and validate our differences and not try to create someone new out of the person we love.

  • Wants versus Needs

What is the difference between wants and needs?  We often say we want something but need something else.  Our needs are based on those early relationships with mother and father, and the manner in which we interacted with our parents.   Our wants are the ideal that we aspire to in relationship.  For example, we may want a peaceful relationship and yet be hypercritical or demanding, creating arguments at every turn.  Our childhood patterns may reflect this argumentative and hypercritical style.  This is what we know “how to do” from our interactions with our family of origin.  But, this is not the ideal of what we aspire to in relationship, and hence, the dissonance between our wants and our needs. As a result, by recognizing the differences between our wants and our needs, one is able to work towards a healthier and more balanced interaction.  And, bringing wants and needs to consciousness, allows one to deliberately and consciously act in the best interest of their relationship.


  • Dr. Gail Gross

    Author and Parenting, Relationships, and Human Behavior Expert

    Dr. Gail Gross, Ph.D., Ed.D., M.Ed., a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) and member of APA Division 39, is a nationally recognized family, child development, and human behavior expert, author, and educator. Her positive and integrative approach to difficult issues helps families navigate today’s complex problems. Dr. Gross is frequently called upon by national and regional media to offer her insight on topics involving family relationships, education, behavior, and development issues. A dependable authority, Dr. Gross has contributed to broadcast, print and online media including CNN, the Today Show, CNBC's The Doctors, Hollywood Reporter, FOX radio, FOX’s The O’Reilly Factor, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Times of India, People magazine, Parents magazine, Scholastic Parent and Child Magazine, USA Today, Univision, ABC, CBS, and KHOU's Great Day Houston Show. She is a veteran radio talk show host as well as the host of the nationally syndicated PBS program, “Let’s Talk.” Also, Dr. Gross has written a semi-weekly blog for The Huffington Post and has blogged at since 2013. Recently, Houston Women's Magazine named her One of Houston's Most Influential Women of 2016. Dr. Gross is a longtime leader in finding solutions to the nation’s toughest education challenges. She co-founded the first-of-its kind Cuney Home School with her husband Jenard, in partnership with Texas Southern University. The school serves as a national model for improving the academic performance of students from housing projects by engaging the parents. Dr. Gross also has a public school elementary and secondary campus in Texas that has been named for her. Additionally, she recently completed leading a landmark, year-long study in the Houston Independent School District to examine how stress-reduction affects academics, attendance, and bullying in elementary school students, and a second study on stress and its effects on learning. Such work has earned her accolades from distinguished leaders such as the Dalai Lama, who presented her with the first Spirit of Freedom award in 1998. More recently, she was honored in 2013 with the Jung Institute award. She also received the Good Heart Humanitarian Award from Jewish Women International, Perth Amboy High School Hall of Fame Award, the Great Texan of the Year Award, the Houston Best Dressed Hall of Fame Award, Trailblazer Award, Get Real New York City Convention's 2014 Blogging Award, and Woman of Influence Award. Dr. Gross’ book, The Only Way Out Is Through, is available on Amazon now and offers strategies for life’s transitions including coping with loss, drawing from dealing with the death of her own daughter. Her next book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, is also available on Amazon now and teaches parents how to enhance their child’s learning potential by understanding and recognizing their various development stages. And her first research book was published by Random House in 1987 on health and skin care titled Beautiful Skin. Dr. Gross has created 8 audio tapes on relaxation and stress reduction that can be purchased on Most recently, Dr. Gross’s book, The Only Way Out is Through, was named a Next Generation Indie Book Awards Silver Medal finalist in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the categories of Death & Dying as well as Grief. Her latest book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, was the National Parenting Product Awards winner in 2019, the Nautilus Book Awards winner in 2019, ranked the No. 1 Best New Parenting Book in 2019 and listed among the Top 10 Parenting Books to Read in 2020 by BookAuthority, as well as the Next Generation Indie Book Awards Gold Medal winner in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the category of How-To. Dr. Gross received a BS in Education and an Ed.D. (Doctorate of Education) with a specialty in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston. She earned her Master’s degree in Secondary Education with a focus on Psychology from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Dr. Gross received her second PhD in Psychology, with a concentration in Jungian studies. Dr. Gross was the recipient of Kappa Delta Pi An International Honor Society in Education. Dr. Gross was elected member of the International English Honor Society Sigma Tau Delta.