She decided that maybe it would be a good idea to listen to the tape I'd made for her: "Grace, if you're listening to this, you're probably feeling that Adam has been inattentive or selfish in some way. It probably feels like he's ignoring your wishes. I'm making this tape because I want him to be as concerned about your needs as he is his own, and I won't be satisfied until he is." My words helped Grace relax somewhat, although she still felt angry. "Grace, remember in our last session how I was talking to you about the fact that 96 percent of the time, the likelihood that a person's partner will care about how she or he feels depends on the attitude that she or he has in the beginning moments of the conversation? Your attitude can have a powerful effect on Adam, even if he has a bad attitude to begin with. Right now you probably feel that Adam's actions or thinking is wrong, or out of line in some way. If you enter the conversation with this attitude, you can kiss the chances of getting Adam to care about how you feel goodbye."
This statement infuriated Grace, and she turned the tape off. But after a few minutes, she decided to go back to it. "Grace, is it possible that if the roles were reversed, Adam wouldn't be as mad at you?" She had to admit that Adam wouldn't be bothered if she made plans without contacting him.
At 11 o'clock, Adam's car rolled into the garage. Grace took a deep breath and waited for him to come inside. As he walked through the door, he looked apprehensive. Grace began, "Adam, I don't like it when you make plans without talking to me first." Adam protested, "But we didn't have any plans!" Grace felt a surge of irritation but caught herself, and relaxed. "Look, Adam, I'm not saying it was wrong for you to do that. I know you probably wouldn't have been irritated with me if I made plans without consulting you. I just think we're different on this type of thing." In a strange way, Grace said, she felt powerful as she uttered these words. For a moment, Adam seemed confused. This was not the Grace he knew. After a moment of silence, his demeanor shifted, and he said softly, "I could easily have called before I committed to the game. I just didn't think about it. I'm sorry. I really don't mind checking with you at all."
In our next session, Grace relayed these events to me with a well-deserved sense of pride. She was beginning to understand how much the fate of her relationship was in her own hands. As the weeks passed, Grace was still frustrated when Adam seemed inattentive to her desires, but she used the tape every time, and her attitude began changing more easily. Three weeks later, she reported that she actually began hearing my words in her head without using the tape.
This signaled that her brain was being rewired for more flexibility, and she was no longer driven by the dictates of her automatic judgmental thoughts. Meanwhile, on Adam's tape, I encouraged him to avoid his tendency to discredit Grace's expectations just because they were different from his, and to look for the legitimate needs that drove her reactions.
We Hear You!