The Relationship Equation

Coral Gables Counseling Center - Monday, May 11, 2015
By Todd D. Giardina, PH. D

Communication is key. I find that whether I am working with couples in therapy, consulting on workplace disputes, or helping physicians convey complicated information – it’s not what you say, but how you say it. Saying things in a way that the other party can hear, understand, and accept.

So let me give you the algebra equation that sums up many of these therapeutic encounters, and you’ll be able to apply it in your relationships. It’s simple – you just solve for x. Like math class, but with real world uses!


That’s it. That’s all it takes to resolve so, so many conflicts and disputes. Let me explain why.

First, with the “X”, you take credit and responsibility for your own emotion. No one makes you feel angry or sad or whatever. Those are your feelings. Also, this points the finger back at yourself and not at another person.  And, most importantly, this step allows the other person to understand your emotions because you have given them labels and defined them

Second, with the “Y,” you convey to the other person what he or she did or said to provoke this reaction in you.  What is essential here is specificity – “you make me angry” is not a helpful statement. Tell me what I did to provoke your response of anger. This way the person in your relationship can identify their actions and explain or change or defend them.

Finally, with the “Z,” you communicate an alternative behavior. If vanilla ice cream makes you sad, then ask for chocolate next time. Everyone is interested in avoiding conflict, and here is a way to prevent a pattern of fights and upset moments. Just give me chocolate ice cream and this won’t be an issue going forward. Too many couples skip this step and get caught in a cycle of conflict.

This equation may not resolve things entirely, but it starts the negotiation process. Maybe someone is really invested in always doing Y – but if you understand their reasons maybe your reaction will change or they can modify Y so that Z is not so far off. Go play golf/get your nails done at noon instead of 5pm on Saturday – okay, fair compromise, but no one has to change their behavior all that much.

Note that this equation does not make for a person in your life who follows your every wish. But, now your partner can understand what you are feeling, why you are feeling it and what can be done to avoid you reacting with such negative emotions in the future.

The relationship equation – learn it, use it – you’ll see it works!

Dr. Todd Giardina, is a licensed psychologist with the Coral Gables Counseling Center and a staff consultant at University of Miami Hospital. Dr. Giardina aims to educate patients and empower them to take charge of their lives and take responsibility for improving their own, individual situations. Dr. Giardina teaches coping skills, largely using cognitive behavioral techniques and mindfulness. You can contact the Coral Gables Counseling Center at 305-445-0477 to schedule an appointment.