Q: Many of the couples I see are at an impasse, caught up in a struggle to prove who's right. How can I help them get past this kind of unwinnable argument and resolve their differences?
A: The first step is to get partners to relinquish the certainty that they're right, which prolongs a point-counterpoint, my-side-against-your-side stalemate. Too often, all of a couple's emotional energy is expended on winning at the cost of being able to understand a central issue in the relationship: what's truly fair. Bob and Sandy illustrate how "being right" leads to a crossfire of unfair accusations.
In their first therapy session, Bob tells Sandy, his wife of two years, to stop e-mailing her former college boyfriend and insists that she end that friendship. She refuses, feeling mistrusted and controlled. As their exchange heats up, Sandy bristles as she defends her innocence, while Bob becomes more adamant and demanding.
Bob: I can't believe that you're still e-mailing your old boyfriend, even though I've asked you not to!
Sandy: And I've told you it's nothing! He's just a friend. I married you. You have nothing to worry about.
Bob: But when I've asked you to stop e-mailing him, you've just blown me off. You have to choose him or me!
Sandy: You sound just like a child. Frankly, I'm insulted that you don't trust me.
Bob: And I'm outraged that you'd put our marriage at risk.