David Burns, MD, has developed a method called cognitive interpersonal therapy that uses specific tools for different trouble spots. Try them; if you're still at an impasse, Burns says, "it may be time to seek professional help."

1. Your partner gives you the silent treatment.

Burns suggests a technique he calls multiple-choice empathy. This involves saying something like "I notice you don't want to talk to me. Is there something you're upset about? Are you angry with me? Perhaps I haven't been a very good listener, and when you've tried to talk, I've just bossed you around. I'm really sad to realize I've probably been doing this to you." Nine times out of 10, Burns says, the other person will open up because you've taken the blame and let him or her off the hook.

2. Your partner criticizes you.

Burns recommends responding to an attack by turning the criticism on its head, a method called positive reframing. For example, if your husband says you're a control freak, instead of taking the bait, respond with a comment like "You're right; I may have a tendency to be overly controlling" and use it as an opening for discussion. "We seem to be having a conflict right now," you might say, "but as awful as it feels, I'm thinking this could be an opportunity for us to explore a deeper relationship. I love you; with that in mind, tell me more about how you're experiencing this."

3. You both want more intimacy.

Try the one-minute drill. One person starts as the Talker; the other is the Listener. The Talker (your husband, let's say) expresses anything that's on his mind for 30 seconds while you give him your full attention, without interrupting, agreeing, or disagreeing. The idea is to sharpen your listening skills, so after 30 seconds you summarize what he said and he grades your response, from 0 to 100 percent, based on how accurate it is. If the grade is below 95, he points out what you missed or got wrong and you repeat the exercise until he gives you at least a 95. Now switch roles. Almost immediately, says Burns, communication between you will improve.

Next: Dr. Burns' guide to escape the blame game


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