Peter Pearson

Mind the gap sign on a railway platformI recently made a shocking discovery. About couples, of course.

After 30 years of working with couples of every economic and social class, from CEO’s of major corporations to prison inmates, I thought I had heard it all.

So I was stunned – really stunned – by this shocking discovery.

Here’s the story.

A couple of years ago I started asking most couples during our first appointment if they think they listen very well to their partners. The vast majority say, “Yes I think I listen pretty well – but my partner is not so hot.”

Then I ask each person, “What do you think your partner’s major complaints about you are? This is just a short assessment to see how well you have been listening.”

Interestingly, most couples would like to prove to me they are good listeners so they usually dig deep and give a pretty good account of their partner’s complaints.

Then I ask one more question. “Obviously we need to check this out. On a 1-10 scale with 10 being very confident, how confident are you that your partner will say you really nailed it with that answer?”

Most of the time I get about an 8. In other words, people are usually right.

Now for the surprise.

I say, “Good. It appears you have been listening pretty well. It seems a big reason why you are here is that there is a serious gap between what you know and what you do. So here is part two of this assessment. You know what your partner dislikes. How well you know what your partner likes? And we’re not just talking about their favorite color or foods. What do you think you do that evokes in your partner feelings of being loved, valued, appreciated or respected?”

This is where I see the squirming and the puzzled looks that say “I wish you hadn’t asked me THAT question.”

I usually get a few weak, lame, “hope-I-got-this-right” responses.

Then I ask the confidence question.

Usually the confidence level is only around 4-5. In other words, most couples have only a shaky notion of their partners’ love language!.

Not very inspiring is it? Yet it is common for very bright, successful people.

They may pride themselves on their achievements in business or in their profession and know more about how to please their key customers or key employees than their mate! That really surprised me. They married for love, caring, connections, and a great life. Yet they don’t know what shivers their timbers.

Hmmmm – ‘think you understand why these couples are struggling?

Now think about this. How successful do you think any team could be if members knew how they were letting their teammates down but did little to correct it?

Just as important, how successful do you think any team could be if members didn’t really know how to be a more dependable, trusted teammate in crunch time?

Want to learn the most common reason why couples don’t create good teams? If you think it is lack of desire or lack of trying – you are very wrong.

The real reason is even more surprising than the discovery I just described.


Peter Pearson, Ph.D., and his wife, Dr. Ellyn Bader, founded The Couples Institute in 1984. Both are psychologists and directors of the Institute and have helped over a thousand couples in their work.

Pete is an engaging and dynamic therapist, speaker and writer. His work includes practical skills, advanced techniques in regulating difficult emotions and entertaining vignettes from his own marriage to demonstrate how some impasses are managed.

He has been featured in over 50 radio and television programs including "The Today Show" and "CBS Early Morning News," and quoted in publications including "The New York Times," "Oprah Magazine" and "Cosmopolitan." His popular book, "Tell Me No Lies," has been of critical help to many couples.

Category: Communication,Couples' Blog,Uncategorized
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  1. Mary – knowing what your partner’s complaints are about you is using your analytical mind. Knowing their love languages is using your heart. Good marriages means merging your heart and mind.

  2. Thank you for your useful articles.
    Can you say what the ‘real reason’ that partners do not listen well to each other is? (or have I missed it…)

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