Relationship Discord

Couples Communication to Resolve Marital Discord

 Dr. David Burns’s theory of relationship discord: We provoke and maintain the relationship problems we complain about.  We act as if we are the victims of the other person’s behaviour.  We get some rewards by being the victim.  For example, being angry, upset etc. with our partners give us some power and control over them.  We find it painful, shocking, and embarrassing to look at our own behaviour.  However, if we don’t look at our behaviour we will continue to endlessly engage in this cycle of provoking and maintaining our marital problems.

Beliefs that Erode Relationships

Submissiveness/Dependency Demandingness/Detachment
  • Pleasing others: I have to please you even if that makes me feel miserable and cheated.
  • Conflict Phobia:  We should never fight. Conflict is dangerous so we’ll avoid conflict by not saying anything.
  • You’re too weak: You’ll fall apart if I give you feedback.  You can’t handle it so I won’t tell you what I need.
  • The Mindreader: If you really love me, I shouldn’t need to tell you what I want, you should just know.
  • I need your approval to feel happy.
  • Fear of Rejection: If you reject me I’m worthless.
  • Love Addiction: I can’t be happy if I’m not in a relationship.


  • Entitlement: You should always treat me the way I expect.  It’s your job to make me happy.
  • The Judge: If you don’t meet my expectations, I have the right to get mad and punish you.
  • I’m Right: I’m right and you’re wrong and you better admit it to me.
  • The Controller: I must be in control of everything.  I can’t stand being vulnerable or having ambiguity.  I can’t leave anything up to my partner.  My partner is incompetent; s/he can’t do tasks or won’t get to them.  My partner won’t do tasks according to my standards.  I must do them all.  Things must be done my way.
  • Blamer: All the problems are your fault so you better change yourself so we can have a good relationship.
  • The Achiever: My self-esteem depends on my achievements.  Without these achievements, I’m nothing.
  • Perfectionism: I must never fail or even make a mistake.  I must have nothing wrong with me, if I do, it means I’m worthless
  • Perceived Perfectionism: You won’t accept me if I’m not perfect.
  • Disclosure Phobia: I can’t tell you how I feel or what I need, I have to keep my true self hidden because if I show you, you’ll reject me.

Couples Therapy Treatment Plan: 


Find the beliefs that are eroding the relationship.  Consider the benefits and drawbacks of maintaining these beliefs. Dispute these beliefs and replace with healthy ones that maintain a healthy relationship.  Learn healthy communication so both partners communicate their needs.


Healthy Communication: Use the EAR


Empathy:  Show you are listening by stating the other person’s thoughts and feelings and asking if that is what s/he meant.


Assertiveness: Convey your thoughts and feelings respectfully: I feel….. when we……  or when this happens…….Could we brainstorm and find something that works for us?  Can we problem solve together?  Disarming technique: find truth in the criticism rather than defending yourself (which leads to more conflict).

Getting to know each other better exercises

Instructions for time out and problem solving

Respect: You mention and think about the positive things and strengths of your partner and admire and respect the person.


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