YOU KNOW THE ROUTINE. Maybe you even live it: A husband comes home from work, turns on the TV, and just wants to zone out. His wife takes his actions personally; seeing her disappointment, he pulls away emotionally—then she berates him for not paying attention to her. This scenario repeats week after week, and eventually the couple is on the verge of a divorce.
Now, cut to the troubled twosome's session with clinical psychologist Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D., who asks them, one at a time, to describe the situation objectively and to express their feelings about it and the outcomes they desired. After each spouse speaks, Rosenberg asks the other to say back what was heard, making sure that they each understand the other's perspective. It quickly becomes clear that the wife feels lonely and the husband feels frustrated; it's also apparent that she wants an intimate connection, while he desires the freedom to do his thing.
This exercise in revealing true needs and feelings enables the couple to communicate with consideration and clarity. Now they can figure out ways to satisfy each of their needs. She decides to arrange time with friends occasionally during post-work hours. And once he realizes that he can choose to be with her without feeling forced to, TV becomes a less compelling option. "When both parties feel that their needs matter to each other, then it's amazing how creative we can be," Rosenberg says. "But when you start with 'I want this' and 'I want that,' then it's a win-lose situation."
Image of woman via Shutterstock