Try to See it My Way: Being Fair in Love and Marriage

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9781583333327: Try to See it My Way: Being Fair in Love and Marriage

a deeply probing book that gets to the heart of what all healthy romantic relationships need: fairness

Most couples enter marriage hoping it will last forever-so why are more and more relationships failing? As Dr. B. Janet Hibbs explains, the key to solving most relationship problems-whether relating to money, children, chores, sex, or in-laws-is through a shared sense of fairness. Intuitively, we think we know what's "fair." But as this book reveals, the way we each understand fairness is much more complex, and is powerfully shaped by our family expectations and experiences.

Dr. Hibbs provides readers with a road map for recognizing imbalances and building a stronger, more loving relationship based on a new kind of fairness. Filled with compassion, practical advice, and compelling, real-life examples throughout, this book offers a groundbreaking understanding of the issues that divide couples over time-and how they can be happier and closer than ever.

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About the Author:

B. Janet Hibbs, Ph.D. , is a psychologist and marriage and family therapist with more than twenty-five years of experience. In addition to her private practice, Hibbs lectures at academic conferences and to other groups across the country. Dr. Hibbs has been married for more than twenty years and has two teenage children.
Karen J. Getzen, Ph.D. , is the author of Resilient Marriages. Dr. Getzen has been married for thirty-five years and has two adult children.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Table of Contents


Title Page

Copyright Page






















Published by the Penguin Group
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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices:
80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England


Copyright © 2009 by B. Janet Hibbs, Ph.D., and Karen J. Getzen, Ph.D.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any
printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy
of copyrighted materials in violation of the authors’ rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
Published simultaneously in Canada


My thanks to Dr. John Gottman, for his permission to reprint an exercise from the
Gottman Institute’s Clinical Manual for Marital Therapy, 2005.


Most Avery books are available at special quantity discounts for bulk purchase for sales promotions, premiums,
fund-raising, and educational needs. Special books or book excerpts also can be created to fit specific needs.
For details, write Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Special Markets, 375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014.


Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Hibbs, B. Janet.
Try to see it my way : being fair in love and marriage / B. Janet Hibbs with Karen J. Getzen.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.

eISBN : 978-1-101-02932-9

1. Interpersonal relations. 2. Love—social spects. 3. Couples. 4. Fairness. I. Getzen, Karen J. II. Title.




Neither the publisher nor the authors are engaged in rendering professional advice or services to the individual reader. The ideas, procedures, and suggestions contained in this book are not intended as a substitute for consulting with your physician. All matters regarding your health require medical supervision. Neither the authors nor the publisher shall be liable or responsible for any loss or damage allegedly arising from any information or suggestion in this book.

While the authors have made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers and Internet addresses at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the authors assume any responsibility for errors, or for changes that occur after publication. Further, the publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

For Earl, Jared, and William—
life’s meaning is time with you


Nothing in my life quite prepared me for the undertaking of writing a book. Fortunately, everything in my life pointed the direction, and along the way key people lent encouragement, wisdom, and love. Try to See It My Way was in the gestational stage for twenty-five years, following my clinical training in contextual family theory. I owe a profound debt of thanks to the brilliant author of contextual theory, my teacher, the late Iván Böszörményi-Nagy. His elegant theory gave me a new professional direction and paradigm to live by. I also had the great fortune of studying with his colleagues, Barbara Krasner, the very spirit of contextual theory, who was my mentor, and Margaret Cotroneo, who shared my love for the pragmatic and first encouraged my research in this field. Another important influence was the late Emmy Pepitone, at Bryn Mawr College, who urged me to continue my writing. These great thinkers trained, befriended, and inspirited me over many years.

As with other important things in my life, I did this process backward. I wrote the book first and then sought a publisher. First, Barbara Cullen, then Liz Widdicombe, friends in the academic publishing world, reviewed a chapter, made suggestions, and then assisted me in finding an agent. Through Liz, Bruce Nichols, and the seven degrees of separation in the world, an early draft arrived on the desk of my agent, Priscilla Gilman. Priscilla took a big chance representing a first-time author. An embracing thanks to Priscilla, who tirelessly and astutely edited early drafts of the book, saved me from inelegant writing, then guided me through the publication world, until the book found a good home. Richard Prud’homme deserves tremendous credit for his keen suggestions on the all-important proposal, which aided me in transforming the ghost of an outline into a compelling read.

Lucia Watson was a dream editor, par excellence at the Penguin Group, Avery/Viking Studio. Lucia rescued me from repetitiveness and other flaws with her extraordinary editing. Her finely tuned ear for the nuances of language, and well-honed vision for the book’s cohesiveness, made this a much finer and more accessible book. Many thanks, Lucia, for your professional wisdom, personal grace, and kindness, too.

My trusted friend Karen Getzen turned the solitary pursuit of writing a book into a dialogic process. Karen responded to every word I wrote (and rewrote), striking an artful balance between challenging and deferring, while making valuable contributions. Karen, thank you for this process, along with the gift of your steadfast patience.

My sister, Gwenn Hibbs, generously took on, at the eleventh hour, a final polishing of that same crucial proposal. She also kindly read and made most insightful comments on the last draft of the manuscript. Gwenn was exceptionally helpful. My close colleague Suzanne Brennan responded to my earliest formulation of the book. My dear friend Jane Buhl contributed the concept of the well of trust. Other talented friends: Jamie Lilley drew the book’s charming line illustrations, and Weaver Lilley created and updated my Web site. My thanks to my colleagues—Drs. Susan LaDuca, Andrea Bloomgarden, Arlene Houldin, Steve Levick, Paul Schaefer, Caroline Mac-Moran, and Jan Filing, who shared my excitement about the project. For quotable comments, my thanks to Jim Bradberry, Claire Robinson, Dr. Jim Hoyme, Weaver Lilley, Diane Luckman, Mark Sivrine, and Ted Loder. My deepest appreciation to family and good friends who were “there for me” while life inconveniently happened at the same time.

My goal in writing this book was to make a complex body of work as simple as possible, but no simpler. There is a long learning curve before you can write in an uncomplicated way about the concepts of relational ethics. Along that curve, my family therapy graduate students taught me to make abstract concepts comprehensible. A large part of the curve was learning from my patients. Their lives have enriched mine, and the lessons I’ve gained will now benefit the lives of others.

Most crucially, I learned to practice what I preach in my own family. I thank my parents, in memory of Max and in honor of Jeannette Hibbs, who blessed me by having dreams and aspirations for me, that I could have them for myself. They lovingly embraced all the challenges I posed for them in my life as a family therapist. My in-laws, Ruth and Earl Marsh, graciously supported my writing in many ways, allowing me time to write when we visited, spending time with the kids, and baking the world’s best cookies. Thank you for the love you have brought to us all.

To my children, Jared and William, I thank you for the great joys you’ve given, and the humility that parenthood brings. They patiently indulged my constant refrain “I’ll just be a few more minutes” during the many hours I wrote.

Above all, I owe the deepest gratitude to my husband, Earl. It would have been impossible to write a book about fairness for couples if I hadn’t experienced it first-hand. Earl has a great generosity of spirit to which I aspire. His resolute support, unflagging belief in me, and good humor (“the book is done again”) made this undertaking not only possible but also a treasured gift of love. Earl, I thank you with all my heart, now and always.



—B. Hibbs

I want to thank B. Hibbs for coming to me five years ago and asking me to contribute to a book on fairness. Through that time I’ve had the pleasure of learning more about her vision and her deep desire and ability to share that vision with others. In the early stage of the development of Try to See It My Way, my friends and fellow writing group members, Annette Lareau and Erin McNamara Horvat, gave feedback that was helpful in making the book more focused. My colleagues in the English department at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia have been supportive and able to find humor in unlikely moments, and have welcomed me into their world. To all my close friends and family, especially my newborn granddaughter, Kayla, thank you.


—Karen Getzen


Why Being Fair Will Make Your Relationship Stronger


To be happy, one must be just.





Life isn’t fair. But relationships can be. Fairness is the key to solving problems and making love last. Despite the fact that most of us learned to tell right from wrong at about age three, curiously, few partners have mastered the art of what it takes to be fair to each other. And you can’t solve this vexing (and sometimes deadly) relationship problem simply by taking turns, or even “fighting fair.” Instead, you need a new way of understanding the intricacies and intimacies of fairness. This new way recognizes that partners bring to their relationships a host of deeply felt “truths” about fairness, based on their own unique family experiences. When these differing “truths” collide, they can prompt a downward spiral of unhappiness. In this context, you need to learn to be fair in a whole new way. If you do, you’ll have a more loving and vital marriage. That is my conviction and the promise this book makes.

When most of my clients first hear this message, they look at me with disbelief and curiosity as if I must live in a fantasy world and certainly must be clueless about their lives. Most couples don’t think of fairness as their defining problem. Most reveal their troubles, as Michelle and Jim did, with a cross fire of accusations. Though this was only their second therapy session, like many couples in distress, it was easy to see that Michelle and Jim were having a recurring argument. They were stuck in their own private, hellish loop with no exit and no apparent solution.

Jim recounted his complaint for what sounded like the umpteenth time: “The spark is gone. I want passion and romance, someone who wants me. I want the woman I fell in love with. I’ve been unhappy for a long time. I don’t think Michelle can meet my needs.”

Michelle retorted: “I’m so sick of those two words, passion and romance. I think if I hear them again, I’ll scream. We have two little kids. I feel like a cow, always breast-feeding, or changing diapers, wiping noses. Have you ever considered that helping me, like doing the dishes or cooking dinner, might be a form of foreplay? You’re totally oblivious. You have no idea about what I go through every day. How could you treat me this way and think I’d have mad passion for you? I don’t think you love me. I don’t even think you like me, and I’m not sure I like you anymore, either.” Michelle then broke down crying, as Jim stared blankly, at a loss for words.

I wondered if their marriage was in trouble simply because they were overwhelmed by the overload of child care demands. Was this yet another well-worn scene from the chore wars? Clearly, division of labor was a problem area, just as their sex life was. But my hunch was that there were other barriers to a loving relationship, or as Jim put it, romance and passion. In my experience, most problems in relationships, whether small or large, have issues of fairness at their core. Similarly, the resolution of conflict requires that partners feel fairly treated. Yet fairness goes beyond simply reassigning chores, communicating better, meeting each other’s needs, or adding romance. Fairness is the silent working model that guides couples’ expectations of each other and underlies every interaction between them. You need fairness to build trust, feel close, and make your marriage work. Yet, how do partners decide what’s fair to give and to get, and who gets to decide?

I stopped their argument, and challenged each of them: “Jim, not having romance and passion is merely a symptom of something deeper going on. So instead of thinking this is simply Michelle’s problem, let’s look at what the problem is between the two of you. And Michelle, help me understand how you’ve asked Jim for help, because blaming him, or telling him he’s oblivious, won’t work. Tell me more about what you expect from each other, and where you learned those expectations. Tell me what you learned about love and fairness from your families growing up. Tell me when it broke down for the two of you.”

Michelle began: “Fairness didn’t matter in my family. My mother was a doormat, and my father was a bully. Sounds a lot like Jim and me. I have a hard time standing up for myself, with Jim or really with anyone. I know this comes from my growing up. But knowing it hasn’t helped me. The only way I got around my father was by being pleasant and giving in. I did the same thing for years with Jim.” Michelle addressed her next remarks to Jim: “I used to try so hard to please you. For years I went along because if I didn’t, you’d get angry. Arguing with you is like being in a boxing match with a heavyweight c...

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