Erin and Tom were invited to a neighbor’s house for a dinner party. When they asked what to bring, the neighbors said not to bring anything. Erin wanted to bring a gift nonetheless. Since the neighbors were connoisseurs of wine, she didn’t want to take the risk of bringing wine. Tom was a coffee aficionado, so she thought about bringing one of his unique coffee blends.

When she mentioned this to Tom, he said, “What does coffee have to do with dinner?” Erin felt he was criticizing her idea.

When they brought this incident up in couples counseling, Erin felt he was saying what a stupid idea. When Tom acknowledged he was thinking this, I said the problem was how he thought about his wife. The comment was critical, but the bigger issue was that he thought about his wife as being capable of stupid ideas. The judgement could go across situations.

To be successful required Tom to recognize and change his judgmental thoughts. Since we were just starting couples counseling, we didn’t know if Tom would be capable of this. The success of their marriage was dependent on it. If Tom couldn’t make this change, Erin could grow intolerant of the judgement or continue in a marriage being constantly on guard. We were all hoping Tom was capable of making this change.