When we first met Christine and Brian Kelly of Camden, Ohio, in January 2000, Christine, now 35, was convinced that their marriage was over. After one particularly tense argument, she stormed out of the house, jumped in her car and drove cross-country — straight into the arms of her old boyfriend, whom we called "Jeff."
But Brian, now 44, refused to give up on their marriage. He finally tracked Christine down a week later and begged her to give it one last chance. She agreed, and they went to counseling for six months. "Brian never does one thing that he promises to do, and he makes me feel so unimportant," Christine told Bonnie Eaker Weil, Ph.D., their New York City-based therapist. "I want a man who understands me." Jeff did, she thought. "I know I have to change, but I don't know how," Brian conceded. "Christine can be so critical. And it's hard to know when something's a real problem or just one of her overblown crises."
Brian: It would have been a lot easier to say, "She screwed up, and I won't forgive and forget." But we're not like that. We don't give up on people.
Christine: I always knew Brian and I would be together forever. I haven't even thought about Jeff since we finished counseling. Maybe we needed the crisis of my affair to figure out how to make our marriage work.
Brian: Counseling helped me realize that I can't just assume things will work out on their own. We have to work together to make them happen.
Christine: And we did. Right now, I'm standing in the kitchen with my kids [Thomas, 3, Jacob, 2, and Elizabeth, 3 months] covered head to toe in flour. We're making cookies — and I'm completely happy, totally rooted in this house, this relationship. Sometimes, communication is still a problem. Last year's kitchen remodeling project was a real test for us….
Brian: I fell back into my old habits, saying I'd call the plumber or buy the windows, but I never got around to doing it.
Christine: I was getting frustrated and angry, but then I stopped myself and thought, He works hard; you know how much he loves you. And I figured out how to explain what I needed more clearly.
Brian: When Christine says, "We're not talking well right now," it's a blinking yellow light that tells me, slow down, you're off track.
Christine: I've also accepted that Brian will always be Brian — quiet, laid-back, and yes, sometimes he doesn't do everything on my to-do list. But usually that's because he's helping out a friend or one of our kids. Brian is the kind of guy who will always be there for you. And that's why I love him.