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Five days after their wedding, in Seattle in 1997, Tony and Lisa Rezac headed for New York City. The starry-eyed young couple, who'd saved some money from his bartending and her waitressing, drove cross-country with their belongings in a U-Haul. "We took on a lot," Tony says. "By the time we found an apartment and I got a job tending bar, we were down to our last $35." Lisa, who dreamed of becoming an actress, took out student loans to enroll in a two-year acting course. Predictably, the financial strain and the adjustment to a new city soon took their toll. "We fought constantly," Lisa recalls, "about money, household chores, whether to stay in New York, you name it. We were too angry even to show affection, let alone make love."
"Essentially, we were no more than roommates," says Tony, "with none of the pluses of being married." Four years into the marriage, he moved out, bunking at a friend's. Lisa was shocked into looking for help, which she found in a book about Imago Relationship Therapy. The couple found a certified Imago therapist, Ellen C. Weber, DCSW, who counseled them for two years.
"Ellen taught us a technique called 'mirroring' that changed the way we communicate," says Tony, who soon moved back home. "For example, Lisa might say, 'I feel overwhelmed by the housework because you never help.' Before, I would have become defensive and said, 'I work long hours and don't need you to boss me around the minute I get home.' Now I say, 'If I heard you correctly, you're frustrated because I don't pitch in.' She'll say, 'That's right.' Then I'll say, 'I understand your problem. But my problem is that I'm exhausted and feel that you're issuing orders.' Then she'll mirror what I said, and so on, until we reach a compromise. This one little skill transformed our marriage!"
Lisa, 34, and Tony, 38, finished therapy a year ago. We recently checked in on them.
Tony: The "mirroring" is more challenging without a therapist as mediator. But we're getting better at it.
Lisa: Yes, there's a tendency to jump in with your own perspective on a hot-button issue. But we stop ourselves and use the language we learned in counseling.
Tony: The best part is that if things are going well in the relationship, things also go well in the bedroom. Instead of hurting each other's feelings, we now empathize. That translates into a desire to be intimate.
Lisa: Absolutely. And we're having fun again. We try ethnic restaurants and go to the theater.
Tony: Having more financial freedom is a huge help. I now have my own practice as a rolfer, a type of massage therapy, and I'm doing very well.
Lisa: I'm segueing out of acting into TV production, which pays better. And we've been able to travel, including a trip to Mexico last year.
Tony: We're also talking about having kids, which I always resisted. But now I'm excited about the idea.
Lisa: That makes me happy. I know we can be good parents. For the moment, though, I'm just glad to be married to the man I love!