A Therapist’s Simple Rule Transformed My Marriage

Treat your spouse with the same level of politeness you would afford, like, any other human being

Jancee Dunn
Published in
4 min readApr 17, 2020


A couple sits on opposite sides of a coffee table, working on their laptops together at home.
Photo: Yagi Studio/DigitalVision/Getty Images

My husband and I are both writers who have worked at opposite ends of our kitchen table for the past 10 years — just imagine that for a minute. Because we’ve been together virtually around the clock, we’re at least somewhat equipped to deal with our new reality of Lockdown Living.

For instance: Recently, as we were tapping away at our computers, Tom unleashed what I call a “screeze” — a nerve-jangling combination of a scream and a sneeze.

A few years ago, I would have yelled at him. I have always been the hothead in our relationship. Our fights usually followed the classic, and corrosive, demand/withdraw pattern, in which one person demands to deal with an issue (that would be me) and the other shuts down and walls off. The more Tom glared stonily into his screen, the more upset I would get, escalating from pleading to shouting and swearing.

Then we visited a notoriously tough therapist named Terry Real who gave us a simple rule for getting along, and it completely changed our relationship.

Real (yes, that’s his real name) is famous for his exceedingly blunt language. As we nervously explained how we had become trapped in this toxic dynamic, he listened, tenting his fingers.

“Here is a rule I want you to live by,” he announced after an excruciating pause. “I would like you to make a commitment to what I call Full Respect Living.” The premise was simple, he said: Nothing you do or say to each other should drop below the level of simple respect. That was it.

I wanted to laugh (although I didn’t dare). Oh, right, of course! It’s that easy. Just treat each other with respect!

“That doesn’t mean you can’t stand up for yourself,” he went on. “But there’s a big difference between aggressive and assertive. There is no place for harshness in a loving relationship. None. If you get nothing from today other than this one thing, you may change your marriage.”

He then gave us a list of behaviors that were off the table from that day forward. No name-calling. No swearing. No ridiculing. No…



Jancee Dunn
Writer for

Author of How Not To Hate Your Husband After Kids. Frequent contributor to NYT Parenting, Vogue, and Travel & Leisure. Website: janceedunn.net IG: @janceedunn