Let's Go to the Audiotape

Disagreements resurfacing? Just press "play."

It's often difficult for my clients to maintain the gains we've made in our sessions once they leave my office. Giving them audiotapes to listen to in stressful times helps them shift from defensive or critical modes to the open and vulnerable states that are essential for connecting with the people they love. This is an idea you can use at home. Make a tape to remind yourself of things you need to hear but don't usually think of when you're upset. The next time you start to feel anger toward your partner, listen to these prerecorded reminders. Here are some questions that might be useful to ask yourself on the tape:

1. Is it possible that your partner didn't understand exactly what you wanted?

2. Could your partner be stressed about other things, or have a lot on his mind?

3. Is this issue more important to your partner than you realize?

4. Is it possible that your partner doesn't have all the facts that you have?

5. Are you reading between the lines things that your partner doesn't intend to be saying?

6. Are your partner's actions driven by a deeper need that's legitimate and important to him?

7. Is your partner afraid he's going to lose something crucial if he does things the way you want?

8. Would your partner be as angry as you are if the roles were reversed?

9. Is it possible that this situation is about legitimately different needs or expectations?

10. Keeping in mind that 96 percent of the time the likelihood that your partner will respond in a positive or negative way depends on the attitude that you have in the beginning moments of a conversation, how would you like to open this discussion with your partner?

Brent Atkinson, PhD, is the author of Emotional Intelligence in Couples Therapy: Advances from Neurobiology and the Science of Intimate Relationships (Norton). He practices at the Couples Clinic, in Geneva, Illinois. For more information, visit

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