–By Lawrence Kaufman; 561-302-0568; contact@kaufmancounseling.com; www.kaufmancounseling.com

Introduction and Instructions:

How good would you say your communication skills are when talking, negotiating, and arguing with your partner? How good do you think your partner’s communication skills are with you? How good do you think your partner perceives his/ her communication skills to be when talking with you? How do you think your partner rates the quality of your communication skills when talking with him/ her? And, finally, how much does the constructiveness of both of your communication skills deteriorate when you become emotional, “in the heat of battle”?

The “self-test” below presents a number of short interactions between intimate partners. In each “scene,” or mini-script, one or both of these spouses or partners is experiencing some negative feeling(s) towards the other. Try to put yourself in the place of both of these participants and decide what is the most constructive thing the person could say or do (or not say or do) under these challenging, and emotionally triggering, circumstances. Also, try to anticipate what answer (A, B, C, or D) your partner might select as the most appropriate. By talking, reflecting on, and discussing this self-test with your partner, you probably could learn some important things about yourself, your partner, and your shared relationship.

1. Mark is exhausted from a long, hard day at work, and a tough commute home. As soon as he opens up the front door of their apartment, he yells out in frustration to Ann: “What a mess!” What do you think is Ann’s best response to Mark at this moment?

A. “Why do you always have to be so critical of me when you first come home?”

B. Say nothing.

C. “Yes, it is unusually messy here today. I’ll have to explain about this later.”

D. “You sound upset — and I don’t really care.”


2. Sue has been waiting for a good time to tell Joe something important that has been on her mind. Finally, she says to him: “Your heavy drinking has become more and more of a problem. I want you to cut down.” Joe’s best response to Sue would be to say:

A. “I haven’t been drinking heavily. Besides, don’t tell me what to do.”

B. “You should talk. You drink more than I do.”

C. “I didn’t know this bothered you so much. Why didn’t you tell me this sooner?”

D. “I would like to cut down myself. Do you think you could help me with this?”


3. Jose has been feeling horny. He feels a need for affection and sexual comforting. While Carmen is washing the dishes in the sink, he suddenly and vigorously grabs her from behind. Her best response to him in this circumstance would be to say:

A. “I told you not to do this while I’m cleaning up! You scared me.”

B. “That feels good — but I have a lot to clean up first. Do you think you could wait about a half hour?

C. “All you think about is sex! As usual, you’re just thinking about your own needs.”

D. Nothing. (The strategy here is to ignore him when he is doing something she doesn’t like.)


4. Leslie and Karen report that they had been seemingly talking about “nothing” (that is, what appeared to be routine issues of daily living together) when “out of the blue,” their discussion “turned south” (deteriorated) for reasons unknown to them. They found themselves having strong negative feelings (including annoyance, frustration, and hurt) towards one another. Under these circumstances, what would have been the best thing one or both of them could first have done or said to their partner:

A. They could have “stepped back” from this increasingly tense situation by switching their minds into a more objective position (point of view). That is, they could have become more self-reflective and calmed their emotions. Then they would have been better able to try to figure out what had set them off.

B. Just walk away until they calmed themselves down.

C. One could have said to the other: “Why don’t you calm down!” This is not getting us anywhere.”

D. One could have said to the other: “Just listen to yourself! You sound hysterical. I can’t talk to you when you get like this. You need to get some professional help.”


5. Michelle was driving the car, with William in the front passenger seat. They were a bit lost — looking for a restaurant they hadn’t been to before. Suddenly, Michelle spotted the restaurant on the other side of the street and made a quick U-turn. William got startled by this, and a little scared. At this point it could have been best if William had said the following to Michelle:

A. (Said in an angry tone) “What the hell are you doing?” You could have gotten us into a bad accident!

B. (Said in a moderate tone) “I don’t appreciate what you just did. I feel you used poor judgment here.

C. “I got scared by you sudden U-turn. My heart is racing now.”

D. “Let’s talk about this later.”


6. Penny and Corey did some entertaining at their home that evening. Each has invited over a couple they are friendly with. The three couples first sat together in the living room for two hours talking about a variety of issues. Then the women went into the kitchen to talk further while the men watched the football game. At the end of this enjoyable evening, after the company had gone, Penny and Corey talked about their experiences with their friends. In the course of the conversation, Penny revealed that she had told the “girls” about the problems Corey’s daughter from his first marriage had been having. Corey was furious when he heard this. “You have no right to tell everybody about my personal business! I can’t trust you.” In response to this, Penny could best have said to Corey:

A. “You’re getting overly dramatic again. You’re always making mountains over mole hills.”

B. “I have a right to tell my friends whatever I want. So what if they know something about Cynthia (Corey’s daughter)?”

C. “I’m sorry if you are upset about what I said. I’ll be more careful in the future not to tell you what I talk about with my friends.”

D. “I’m sorry you’re so upset. I didn’t realize that you would have this reaction. I’ll be more careful in the future what I tell our friends about your personal life.”


7. Jason is angry at Betty. He just found an entry in the checkbook for an unexpected expense. He storms into the room where she is, to confront her. “Why didn’t you tell me about this check that you wrote? I thought we had an agreement to talk about things like this before spending money?” Betty could most constructively reply to Jason by saying the following:

A. “I knew if I talked to you about this you wouldn’t want to spend the money.”

B. “It’s my money too. You sound just like my father.”

C. “I meant to talk to you about this before, but I forgot to. Let’s talk about this calmly so that we can learn more about this kind of misunderstanding so it doesn’t happen again.”

D. “All you think about is money. I’m tired of hearing your constant criticism of me. Pick, pick, pick.”


8. “I feel pissed off with you for not walking King earlier. I’m fed up with your lack of responsibility” Ada said to Perry. Which of the following choices could be the best way for Perry to respond?

A. “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to get home earlier as I had planned. Dan (his boss) called a last-minute meeting before closing time.”

B. “I’m glad you can tell me how you are feeling, but I resent your remark about my being irresponsible.”

C. “I feel bad for King. And I didn’t mean to upset you. Remember what our counselor told us about how your tone of voice has a much more powerful effect than the words you use?”

D. “I realize I don’t have a good track record recently on being responsible. I’m working on changing that. However, in this instance I actually did walk King earlier. He just wanted to go out again after that.”


9. Bell is screaming again at Evan: “You’re such a chicken shit! Why don’t you stand up for yourself like a man? I’m tired of having to put up with you. I can easily find somebody better than you to be with.” To this onslaught (an almost daily occurrence), Evan doesn’t respond. He just walks out of the room to get away from Bell and to sit in front of the television set. Why do you suppose that Evan doesn’t respond verbally to Bell?

A. Because he has learned that when he does she then comes down even harder on him.

B. Because he is so frightened of the potential rage reaction building up inside of him. He’s afraid that he might physically abuse her if he stayed in her presence.

C. He is so afraid of becoming like his rage-aholic father, or like provocative Bell, that he shuts down, runs away, and detaches himself.

D. Possibly A, B, and C.


10. Mary has a conscious philosophy that it is best to never give in to negative feelings she might be having towards others. This is what her mother taught her to do as a little girl. She tells herself that she is strong when she doesn’t take personally what others say to her. She believes that the best strategy she can use when dealing with other people is to maintain a friendly attitude and avoid conflict at all costs. She also believes it is always in her best interests to not think about whatever might bother her. “Nothing good comes from complaining and obsessing” she tells herself. How much do you agree or disagree with Mary’s approach to communication with others and within herself?

A. A great deal.

B. Not at all.

C. Somewhat agree.

D. Somewhat disagree.



I have written the above “self-test” mainly to encourage you, the reader, to reflect on the challenges and rewards involved in trying to come up with the “best” answer for each of the ten vignettes (stories, narratives) presented. In this process, you can gain the opportunity to learn more about yourself, your partner, and your relationship together, by analyzing the reasons why an “incorrect” answer isn’t helpful or constructive. I hope you have found this exercise to be of interest to you, and thought-provoking.

I assume there will be some readers who will be disappointed that I have not presented them with a rating for what it means to get a certain number of answers “correct.” All I can offer you is my view of what the “best” answer to each question is. (Keep in mind that what is “best” in one context or situation may not be best in another.) You may or may not agree with me. That is your prerogative (right). We can learn from one another by having different opinions. Below is my list of “best” answers:

1. C

2. D

3. B

4. A

5. C

6. D

7. C

8. A – D (A “trick” question.)

9. D

10. B


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