I recently finished working through David Burns’ book ‘Feeling Good Together: The Secret to Making Troubled Relationships Work.’
I say ‘working’ because I read the book cover to cover once even though the author comments several times in the book that anyone reading through it should work through the exercises that he has in each chapter to develop a deeper understanding for the concepts. So I read it again, this time working through the exercises in a notebook.
On first read I thought it was a wonderful book, chock full of great relationship insights that I hadn’t encountered before. But after reading it again and working through the exercises I think this is required reading for anyone who is not a solitary monk living on a snowy mountaintop (and really, if that guy ever comes down, he’s going to have to read it too!).
Burns lists several criticisms of current day relationship psychology and lists what works instead based upon his many years of clinical work and research.
Basically people stay in troubled relationships because they are getting something out of it. Though that something might not be intimacy, it is often power, control, money, sex, or someone to fight with. If individuals want to experience greater levels of intimacy, they have to be honest about what they really want in a relationship.
Secondly Burns states that a person wanting greater intimacy must agree to stop blaming the other person for the problems in the relationship and to take responsibility for making the relationship better and for the happiness of the other person. He says that blame is the ‘atomic bomb’ of intimacy. Each person in the relationship is 100% responsible for it.
Burns goes on to list the many common communication mistakes that detract from intimacy. It’s funny that before reading this book I thought of myself as a pretty good communicator. But in reality I’m guilty of making these communication mistakes on a daily basis.
Burns then lays out a technique for solving any problematic relationship. All of the communication issues in a troubled relationship, he says, can be encapsulated within a single verbal interaction between the two individuals. By analyzing a single verbal interaction, you can pinpoint your communication failures, see how what you said or didn’t say made the other person feel, and modify your response in order to achieve greater intimacy with the other person in the future.
I selected two troubled relationship interactions for the exercises in the book. After some analysis I found that problems in each of these relationships were caused by the same poor communication on my part. In these relationships I tend to internalize my emotions, treat the other person with slight disregard, and foster hostility in the other person.
Fortunately using the following communication keys in the book I was able to see my faults and fix the troubled relationships rather quickly.
Burns’ keys to effective communication are as follows:
- Disarming Technique – regardless of what the other person says, find some truth in it. Once you do this, the other person will put down their guard, stop criticizing and complaining, and open up.
- Thought Empathy – tell the other person what you think they are thinking based upon the situation or based upon what they just said.
- Feeling Empathy – tell the other person what you think they are feeling based upon the situation or based upon what they just said.
- Inquiry – ask the other person questions to get them to open up.
- Stroking – complement the other person, treat them with respect, and let them know that you value the relationship.
- I Feel Statements – once the other person has let down their guard, has shared their thoughts and feelings with you, and you understand them, you can finally be assertive and tell them how you feel. Make sure to own up to your feelings and don’t blame the other person for your feelings. Saying ‘I feel sad’ let’s the other person know how you feel. But saying ‘You make me feel sad’ puts the other person on the defensive.
Burns states that most of the time people just want to share their thoughts and feelings and to be understood. This leads to greater intimacy in any relationships.
The techniques in the book forced me to look deeply at all of the relationships in my life including friends, co-workers, lovers, family, and random people that I meet each day. The book also provides several simple, yet powerful communication techniques that will transform all of your relationships. It’s a great book!