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By Michele Ritterman, Ph.D.

Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes, 42 seconds

Milton and Elizabeth Erickson’s professional collaboration didn’t stop with their early papers on time distortion. During Milton’s last seven years, when I was a frequent visitor to the Erickson household and office, Betty was very much involved in all aspects of his work. After I had my first baby and was pregnant with the second, Betty took care of my daughter for a whole morning so that I could have uninterrupted time with Milton. The rapport between Milton and Betty and her involvement was as important to me as my direct studies with Milton.

During the session in which Betty watched my baby, and in the context of discussions he and I were having about my marriage and my parents’ relationship, I asked Milton about his own family, and his parents. As best I can recall this is what he told me. It is my favorite Erickson story, the foundation of the couples courses I now teach around the world.

“I was fortunate,” he said, “to have had parents who told me life was enjoyable in their twenties and thirties. They liked their forties and fifties together. Their sixties, seventies, and eighties were wonderful and full of surprises. But nothing was as good as their nineties.

Now, when I was of marrying age, I went to my mother who lived on a farm, and I asked her what it was that made her relationship with Dad so good.

My mother said, ‘I tell your father something once and I don’t repeat myself.’

I went to my father out in the field and I asked, ‘What is it that makes your relationship with Mom so good?’

He said, ‘I tell your mother something once, and I don’t repeat myself.

Now, son, you see that chicken coop over there in the yard? It’s made of wire.

Many years ago your mother asked me to make her a fine chicken coop of brick, something permanent. I considered the request thoughtfully. I said, No, I would not, but I would make her a temporary coop. She never said another word about the matter. Nor did I. Now that temporary coop lasted a lifetime.'”

That is the story Milton told me while Betty watched Miranda, my daughter, and I was pregnant with Judah, my son. I have shared this story with so many couples who would bludgeon each other with pressures and demands instead of accepting a yes or no and live with it if they can, and leave if they can’t.

There is classic elegance and grace to this good farm sense. It can take a multitude of forms. Be careful if you apply it, because even apparently bickering couples may secretly be at peace with each other. It would be wretched to think of professionals forcing couples to behave like Erickson’s parents. There is no rigid application of the story. It is just a tender, simple story of love and acceptance. It is not about tolerating the insufferable. It is not about silencing oneself when it is time to speak out. I offer it as a tender simple story of acceptance and true love. Use it sparingly and wisely.


This excerpt has been extracted from Volume 25, Issue No. 1 of The Milton H. Erickson Foundation Newsletter.

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