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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  1. Miss Britt says:

    My Imago:

    I am trying to get a person who is selfish, unreliable, flighty, cold and distant to always be talkative, loving, strong and encouraging, so that I can get stability and love and feel happy, safe and special.

    I stop myself from getting this sometimes by feeling abandoned, distancing myself, and getting angry.

    Some key things that stood out for me:

    Stability and safety are HUGE for me.

    I distance myself and/or get angry when I don’t feel safe – and then feel abandoned when Jared doesn’t respond to that. Because I? Am a crazy person.

  2. Fantastagirl says:

    Interesting… and surprisingly makes a lot of sense. (did the exercise and interesting is the best thing I can come up with right now.)

  3. Hmmm I really need to do this with Jus. Though I might need you to convince him to play along. I’m sure he thinks he already knows my answers anyway.

  4. avitable says:

    I am trying to get a person who is sour, bitter, and spicy to always be chocolatey, sweet, and melty, so that I can have lots of ice cream and eat birthday cake.

    I stop myself from getting this sometimes by not purchasing ice cream, not purchasing birthday cake, or being too lazy to go to the store.

    This clearly shows that I have an eating problem. This thing is amazing!

  5. B.E. Earl says:

    Right away I can tell this is probably nuts because the thing I wanted and needed most as a child was an Evel Knievel action figure. You know the one with the motorcycle that you cranked up? So, um, yeah.

  6. SciFi Dad says:

    I tried it, but the results weren’t very accurate. However, the whole “people get married to resolve childhood conflict” thing? Spooked me out: my wife was a Kindergarten teacher (who made time for me despite a teacher’s hectic schedule) and my mother was a Kindergarten teacher (who was too tired to do anything else, leaving my sister and I to raise ourselves as well as take care of the cleaning and cooking).

  7. I think I agree with this.

    I just want to thank you for being so frank and honest about this-you are not only helping you and Jared, but you are helping countless others out there who’s marriages may be struggling.

  8. I guess it’s a good thing we haven’t tried couples therapy.

    I don’t understand the directions of this very well.

    Otherwise, I’d totally do it.

  9. I think it makes a lot of sense.
    I was looking for (and got someone) who wanted to travel and have adventures and be a little bit naughty (100% opposite of my parents).
    He was looking for (and got) someone who would pay attention to him and take care of him and makew him feel loved (100% opposite of his family)

  10. Bre says:

    Did you come up with this on your own? Fantastic idea. Especially for those of us who are goal-oriented thinkers (definitely me) and maybe come off as bossy to our partners… Oops. It happens :)

  11. Interesting, considering I’ve admitted to marrying my mother the first time, and my father the second time. I always did like my dad more, although his passivity (and Steve’s) drive me crazy.

  12. perpstu says:

    Hmmm….interesting. I did the exercise. I need to mull it over a bit, but fascinatingly accurate indeed.

  13. Faiqa says:

    I believe that we marry to resolve childhood issues, too.

    On another note, I have to say that nobody has a perfect childhood. As a student of history, I have found that history is mostly memory and that memory is subjective. Cultures, nations and *families* agree to propagate and collaborate their shared history. Often this process of collaboration results in a reflection of what they want the truth to be instead of completely reflecting the truth.

    So, what I’m saying is Jared is a big, fat liar. Kidding. :)

  14. if we get married to resolve childhood issues and i have managed to avoid marriage three times, wonder how fucked up that means me and my childhood are/were.

    imma go with VERY.

  15. Maria says:

    We did this one too.

  16. Finn says:

    I read this earlier, decided to save it for later and now I’m too tired to think about it. And yet even giving it a little thought I can see at least some of the pattern.

    Now what do I do about it?

  17. Alison says:

    Holy cow!!
    This is some good stuff!! It makes so much sense. Now to figure out how to apply this to finding a new guy that will actually be a better match… hmmmm… keep going and keep posting Britt, you’re helping a lot of us out here! And good luck with everything!

  18. MelissaInk says:

    Wow, wow. I found it very accurate. I filled mine out before reading your Mad Libs, and I found both safety and stability very big for me as well.

    I can see the whole getting married to resolve childhood conflict … sometimes I see staying married as resolving it as well (because, come on now, sometimes it sucks).

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