In Love Is Never Enough: How Couples Can Overcome Misunderstanding (2010), father of cognitive therapy and professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania Aaron T. Beck analyzes the actual dialogue of troubled couples to illuminate the most common problems in marriage.
He points to the negative thinking, disillusionment, rigid rules, unrealistic expectations, and illogical conclusions as contributing to much of the miscommunication that pulls partners apart.
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Here are a few central pointers from his book:
Check your mind reading
When spouses’ high expectations are thwarted, they are prone to jump to negative conclusions about the partner’s state of mind and the state of the marriage. Relying on what amounts to mind reading, the disillusioned spouse jumps to damning conclusions about the cause of the trouble: “She’s acting this way because she’s bitchy” or “He’s being this way because he’s filled with hate.” Interpreting a partner’s motives in this way is fraught with danger, simply because we cannot read other people’s minds…
We can never really know the state of mind — the attitudes, thoughts, and feelings — of other people. We depend on signals, which are frequently ambiguous, to inform us about the attitudes and wishes of other people. We use our own coding system, which may be defective, to decipher these signals. Depending on our own state of mind at a particular time, we may be biased in our method of interpreting other people’s behavior, that is, how we decode. The degree to which we believe that we are correct in divining another person’s motives and attitudes is not related to the actual accuracy of our belief….
Partners should check their mind reading, either by asking directly or by making further observations of their mate’s actions. They will often find that their mind reading is incorrect. By disproving their interpretations based on mind reading, they have an additional payoff, namely, they can correct their coding system for understanding their spouse— reprogram their computer, as it were. This technique helps them to be more accurate in knowing what their partner is actually thinking and feeling so the relationship can be more harmonious.
Give the benefit of the doubt
Distressed couples often react to each other as though they themselves had a psychological disorder. Their thinking about their spouse shows bias like that seen in people with anxiety and depression. To them, their beliefs are real, their minds are open. Actually, they have closed minds and a closed perspective where their partner is concerned…
The power of the negative is shown in a number of research studies. What most of all distinguishes distressed marriages from satisfactory marriages is not so much the absence of pleasant experiences but their interpretation. The improvements that couples show in counseling are accompanied more by a reduction in unpleasant encounters than by an increase in pleasant events. Happiness seems to come more naturally when the negative experiences and negative interpretations are diminished.
Communicate what is important to you (rather than assuming “s/he SHOULD know”). Communicate your needs and ask for hers/his.
The assumption that one’s expectations are universal leads to another problem. One partner will believe that the other should know what he or she wants without being asked. This expectation that the mate should be psychic is found frequently in distressed marriages. ….
Because of the symbolic meanings attached to ordinary failings such as being late, one spouse may attach a great deal of significance to the other’s tardiness: “Something may have happened to her” or “If he really cared about my feelings, he would be on time.” Communicate the symbolic meaning of your partner’s failing or ways s/he has disappointed you.