When Brian confronted Ashley, not only did he use accusatory language (“Did you cheat on me?”) but also the tone of his voice conveyed hostility. And Ashley did what many people do in such situations—she lied. She said that she would never cheat on him—that she would never do that to him. Only when Brian confronted her with concrete evidence did Ashley break down. She started crying and said she was sorry. She promised never to cheat on him again. Brian was enraged! Ashley cheated on him, lied about it, and now wanted him to forgive her? A major fight ensued. By the end of the evening, not only did Brian feel misunderstood, he wasn’t sure he could work things out with Ashley. In fact, the next morning he decided to move out.

What if Brian had taken a different path? If Brian had reflected on his emotions about being betrayed and tried to share them in a way that created empathy, things might have turned out differently. Let’s be honest, no matter what, the conversation between Brian and Ashley would have been gut-wrenchingly painful. However, if he could have approached her in a way that prevented the likelihood of her lying about what happened, it would have been helpful. For example, if Brian started the conversation by saying, “Ashley, I love you, and I really care about our relationship. I want to talk about what happened. I’m so hurt, confused, and sad,” fewer lies might have been told, less damage would have been done to their relationship, and the issues to address would have been put on the table.

Again, we understand the urge to vent or punish a partner can be strong. And we know that some of your family and friends may advise you to put your partner in their place—to avoid coming across as being weak. However, it takes real wisdom and strength to approach relationship problems with a constructive mind-set—and it works better.