Marriage Mad Lib

My husband and I did this exercise during last week’s marriage counseling session.

I thought it was interesting, and announced mid session that I’d be featuring Marriage Mad Lib on my blog.  My marriage counselor laughed and Jared shook his head the way that he always does when I announce that something is going to show up on my blog.  I like to think it’s a mix of resignation and amusement.

Anyway, first the exercise and then the explanation.  Because every good Mad Lib relies, to a certain extent, on the element of surprise.

Before you start, picture yourself for a moment in your childhood home.  If you had lots of childhood homes (raises hand), picture yourself in the one you remember most easily.  Take a minute to imagine your mom and both the good and less than good memories you have of her as a child.  Do the same with your dad, and any other caretakers that were important in your childhood.  It’s important that you think of these people as you saw them as a child, rather than how you view them as an adult.


1.  List several adjectives that describe the positive characteristics of your caretakers.

2.  List several adjectives that describe the negative characteristics of your caretakers.

3.  Complete the sentence:  What I wanted and needed most as a child was ________.

4.  List any recurring childhood frustrations that you had.  For example “did not get listened to” or “no one knew I was hurting” or “had to take care of siblings”.

5.  List how you responded to these frustrations.  This should be how you felt AND your behavioral responses.  In other words – what you did.

6.  List your positive memories from childhood.  It can be specific, like “that time we went to the Macy’s parade”, or general, like “decorating for Christmas”.

7.  List the feelings you associated with each memory.

8.  Go back to step 1 and 2 and circle the three adjectives in each list that had the most impact on you.

Now, it’s time to fill in the Mad Lib.

I am trying to get a person who is (circled answers from 2), to always be (circled answers from 1), so that I can get (what you filled in on 3) and feel (7).  I stop myself from getting this sometimes by (5).

Now ask yourself:

*Does “I am trying to get a person who is ______” describe your partner?  Are there some words that don’t fit, or other words from step 2 that also fit?  Cross off the ones that don’t fit and add any others from the list that do fit.

*Are you trying to get your partner “to be _______”?  Same as before.  Cross off words that don’t fit and add any from your list original list in step 1 that does fit.  Are these the things you “poke” your partner about?

*Reread what you said in the “so I can get ___ and feel ___” section.  Does this describe the overall feeling you’re trying to achieve in your relationship?

*And finally, take a look at the last part about things you do sometimes to stop yourself.  Are these typical responses for you when you argue with your spouse or run up against conflict?

For me, this exercise gave me an eerily accurate description of how I see my husband, what I’m trying to get from him, my goals in a relationship and, of course, how I get in my own way.  It was less accurate for Jared, mainly because he had a pretty much perfect childhood and couldn’t come up with a single negative attribute for his parents.

(Our counselor noted that this exercise is more difficult for people with really, really good childhoods.  I concluded that Jared picked me because his parents were perfect and I was also perfect.  Clearly.)

This exercise, or Marriage Mad Lib as I call it, is an intricate part of Imago Therapy – the type of marriage counseling Jared and I are in.  The idea is that we pick our partners for a reason, and that every relationship has the potential to be a good one.  This particular exercise is meant to show us some of the unconscious reasons we picked our spouses in the first place.

In a nutshell – people get married to resolve childhood conflict.

I think it’s brilliant and compare it to relationship karma.  If you didn’t get it right the first time around, you keep looking for situations to try again until you do.  Jared is not near as comfortable with the idea, mainly because of his basically perfect childhood, I think.  Even though he’s not entirely buying into the “we get married because of problems we had with our parents” theory, even he has to agree with the revelations that have come from it about our own behaviors – especially mine.   So there’s that.

I’m putting the “answer” to my own Marriage Mad Lib in the comments.  Feel free to play along if you’re comfortable, or tell me you agree with Jared and think it’s totally nuts.

I am not, for obvious reasons, listing Jared’s answers.  A girl can only take so much head shaking.

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