When Annie. 26. realized she was in love with Craig, 25, the first person she told was her mom. “We’ve always been close we talk almost every day. I’d been single for two years after a devastating breakup she was as thrilled for me as I was.” Half a year later, Annie was focusing on Craig’s shortcomings and feeling disconnected in hard-to-pin-down ways. She picked fights, he sulked, she felt guilty.
“Craig and most of his friends are part of the corporate world, whereas I’ve always hung out with intellectuals and bohemians.” explains Annie. “Suddenly I was obsessing over how Craig spent his leisure time. Why doesn’t he read novels or go to galleries and museums, which he visits only to please me? Are we wrong for each other?” She’d hash it out with her mother. “My mom liked Craig, but she had a way of echoing my anxieties either by worrying with me about Craig’s rightness or worrying for me about the possibility of the relationship not making it. I’d wind up angry with her and even more critical of Craig.”
Uncomfortable with the tenor of those conversations, Annie pulled back. “My mom and I continued to speak as often as before but rarely about Craig,” she says. It was a subtle shift, yet the romantic impact was dramatic. Annie began to confide in Craig more frequently. “In the beginning we talked about my relationship with my mom feelings that I hadn’t shared with anyone until then. That led to other conversations. I could feel us growing closer again.” Focusing on Craig instead of her mother also clarified Annie’s priorities. “Once I opened up,” she says, “I found Craig was a focused and loving listener. His perceptions surprise and delight and teach me. That seems more impor-lanl than whether or not he likes to read the same kinds of books I do.”
Love is fluid, flexible, infinitely responsive, which is why the tiniest changes can create profound results. “Think of steering a ship,” says Shirley Glass, Ph.D., a Baltimore psychologist and couples therapist. “If you turn the wheel just one degree to the right, you change your course by a thousand miles.”
The necessary nudge may come from the most unexpected places. Two years into their marriage, Katherine, 30, and her husband, Daniel, 31. staged a romantic comeback in small claims court. That’s where Daniel, a painter and freelance illustrator, had gone to pursue payment he hadn’t received for a contracted piece of work. “We’d been feeling vaguely disappointed in each other and in the relationship,” says Katherine. “The fact that Daniel saw the action through, with all its hassles, changed the current between us. Taking on conflict or dealing with any kind of detail wasn’t typical of him, either in business or in our marriage.” Daniel admits he’d gotten used to letting Katherine confront the outside world wrhile he removed himself to be the “distracted artist.” The distinction had delighted them both for a time but was beginning to outlive its charm. Daniel’s day in court gave him a feeling of accomplishment and a take-charge brio that spilled over into other areas of their lives: Soon after, he volunteered to oversee the couple’s mutual-fund investments and negotiated a better deal on their health-insurance plan. “Katherine has always loved me a lot as an artist, but she loves me as a fully functioning grown-up even more,” he says. He won his claim; they rewon romance.