Say you’re having an argument with your partner, housemate or friend. What’s going through your mind during the interaction? How are you interpreting the other person’s remarks and behaviors? How is the other person reading what you say and do? And how often are you both reading each other’s signals correctly?

Cognitive Therapy (CT) is used for many disorders, but it’s also effective for everyday problems… including relationship problems. It can help people untangle the misinterpretations and distorted thinking that pop up, especially when expectations are high.

For instance, let’s say Adam and Laura, a married couple, are headed to a dinner party one night, hosted by one of Adam’s friends. Laura gets held up at work, and comes home late, thereby making both of them late for the dinner party. Adam gets disgruntled and thinks, she doesn’t care about me or my friends. She never manages to be on time and it just isn’t respectful. I’m sick of this. Meanwhile, Laura gets annoyed with Adam and thinks, he never asks what’s going on at work. All he cares about is his stupid social life. Can’t he see I’m stressed out? 

Through Cognitive Therapy, Adam and Laura would learn to examine their thinking patterns, see the generalizations they’re both making about the other person, and learn to communicate and compromise more explicitly. Perhaps Adam would recognize that Laura does take an interest in his friends in other ways, even if she has a tendency to be late. Perhaps Laura would realize that Adam does care about what’s happening at her job, but that he’s not a mind-reader, and may not know what’s bothering her unless she tells him. The couple would consider the expectations they have for one another, and what meanings they (incorrectly) attribute when the other person fails to meet a given expectation.

For an in-depth look at Cognitive Therapy for relationship problems, try Dr. Aaron Beck’s book, Love is Never Enough. It’s based on Beck’s own experience counseling couples with Cognitive Therapy, and includes many everyday anecdotes, like this excerpt. You can also check out this article: Cognitive Therapy for Relationship Distress.