Peter Pearson

I 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., Relationship & Teamwork Expert for Entrepreneur Couples

Pete has been training and coaching couples to become a strong team since 1984 when he co-founded The Couples Institute with his psychologist wife, Ellyn Bader.

Their popular book, “Tell Me No Lies,” is about being honest with compassion and growing stronger as a couple.

Pete has been featured on over 50 radio and television programs including “The Today Show,” "Good Morning America,” and "CBS Early Morning News,” and quoted in major publications including “The New York Times,” “Oprah Magazine,” “Redbook,” “Cosmopolitan,” and “Business Insider.”

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5 years ago

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…)

Pete Pearson
Pete Pearson
5 years ago

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.

5 years ago

Thank you…

A Glossary of Terms that are sometimes Confusing

Couples Therapy is a counseling procedure that seeks to improve the adjustment of two people who have created an interdependent relationship. There are no standard procedures to help two people improve their adjustments to each other. Generally, a more experienced therapist will offer more perspectives and tools to a couple. Length of treatment will depend on severity of problems, motivation and skills of the therapist. A couple can be dating, living together, married or separating and may be gay, lesbian or heterosexual.

Marriage Therapy is a term often used interchangeably with marriage counseling. The term marriage implies two people have created a union sanctioned by a government or religious institution. The methods used in marriage counseling, marriage therapy and couples therapy are interchangeable and depend more on the specific challenges of each unique couple.

Psychotherapy is one or more processes to help improve psychological and emotional functioning. Examples are psychoanalysis, cognitive therapy, behavior therapy, Gestalt therapy, Transactional Analysis, Rational-Emotive therapy, or group therapy. Many forms of psychotherapy are blends of different approaches. For example, newer forms of psychotherapy called energy psychology draw upon recent advances in brain and neuroscience. These approaches often build on cognitive behavioral methods.

Clinical Psychologist. After graduating from college, it usually takes about five years of graduate school to get a Ph.D. in Psycholgy. It then requires an additional two years of supervision and passing a written (and often) an oral exam. There are a few states that allow psychologists to prescribe medications (with additional training) but that is uncommon.

Psychiatrist. After graduation from medical school, there is a generally a 4-year psychiatric residency. After the completion of this training, psychiatrists must pass an exam issued by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology to obtain certification and legally practice in the field. Psychiatrists can prescribe medications.

Clinical Social Worker. This profession usually requires two years of study after obtaining an undergraduate degree. While specific licensure requirements vary by state, most require clinical social workers to obtain 3,000 hours or 2 years of supervised clinical experience, after obtaining a Masters degree. Social workers can also specialize in diverse fields such as human services management, social welfare analysis, community organizing, social and community development, and social and political research.

Marriage and Family Therapist. Obtaining this license requires a Masters degree which takes approximately two years of post graduate study. The license also requires 3000 hours of supervised work and passing written exams.

The Couples Institute. We have assembled a group of top notch therapists at The Couples Institute. Whatever marriage help or marriage advice you are looking for, we are here to serve you. While most other therapists see only a few couples a week, we specialize in marriage and couples relationships, working to develop and bring you the most current and effective approaches to couples therapy. For more information about couples therapy or marriage counseling, see our couples therapy section.