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Can Self-Talk Save Your Relationship?

Middle-aged couple relaxing in sofa at homeDid you know that often the most important person to communicate with is yourself? Using the right self-talk can actually save a dating or other kind of relationship.  

Self-talk refers to the messages we give to ourselves. We can use the self-talk technique to change the destructive messages we tell ourselves into communications that support ourselves and a relationship.

Here’s the five-step method to do this, proposed by psychologist Pamela Butler, PhD, author of Talking to Yourself: How Cognitive Behavior Therapy Can Change Your Life:

Step 1. Be aware. Listen to your self-talk. What are you telling yourself?

Step 2. Evaluate. Decide if your inner dialogue is supportive or destructive.

Step 3. Identify. Determine the source of the cognitive distortion or thinking error that is maintaining your inner speech. Is it

  • the Driver, an inner-self who commands you to be perfect, hurry up, be strong, please others, or try hard
  • the Stopper, an inner-self who catastrophizes, self-labels, self-judges in negative ways, and sets rigid requirements
  • the Confuser, an inner-self who makes arbitrary inferences, fails to be aware of the full picture, overgeneralizes, and makes other cognitive distortions?

Step 4. Support yourself. Replace your negative self-talk with permission and self-affirmation. For example, if you are inclined to please others too often at your own expense, you can replace negative self-talk with permission by saying, “At times it is important for me to do or say what I want, even if my doing so does not please my partner at the moment.”

Step 5. Develop your guide. Decide what action you need to take, based on your new supportive position.

Carla’s Self-Talk Saves Relationship

Carla felt confused when Russell told her on the phone that he’d be celebrating his upcoming birthday with close family members. She’d been going out with him for a couple of months and liked him. It was too soon to know where the relationship would be going, but all seemed well until he’d dropped what Carla felt was a bomb. Here’s how Carla used the self-talk technique to stop herself from sabotaging their relationship:

“What about me?” she thought, feeling her stomach tighten when the call ended. “If he cared for me, he’d want to be with me too on his birthday.” Here’s how Carla recognized and reversed her negative self-talk, using the above five-step process:

    1. Be aware: “I’m telling myself he doesn’t like me, isn’t taking me seriously.”
    2. Evaluate: “My self-talk is unhelpful, makes me feel bad about both Russel and myself.”
    3. Identify: “The source of my thinking error is my Confuser. It’s causing me to make an arbitrary inference, i.e. illogical conclusion. I’m not seeing the whole picture.”
    4. Support yourself. “I’m giving myself permission to ask Russell why he’s not including me in his birthday plan.”
    5. Develop your guide. Carla’s action plan: Keep an open mind. Carla decides to phone Russell and say gently, “I’m surprised that you’re not wanting to celebrate your birthday with me” and see what happens.

Can you see how Carla has used self-talk to get out of her funk? Are wondering what Russell told her?

Actually, Russell had wanted to be with Carla for his birthday, but because she hadn’t invited him to dinner or something else for his special day, he thought it wasn’t important to her. So he went along with his parents’ suggestion for a family dinner at their favorite restaurant. “Would you like to join us?” he asked Carla.

Happy Ending for Carla

What if Carla hadn’t reversed her self-talk? She might have sulked, harbored hurt feelings, and stopped seeing Russell. Fortunately, Carla’s positive self-talk resulted in a happy ending. And a year later, in a happy marriage.

But really, any outcome from positive self-talk is likely to be constructive. Had Russell indicated that he didn’t value her presence on his birthday because he didn’t view their relationship as likely to become serious, Carla would have been disappointed, but ultimately relieved to free herself up from a relationship likely to go nowhere and allow her to find a more promising one.  

One way or another, using the self-talk communication technique is likely to produce calmness, objectivity, and a satisfying sense of closure.

Can Self-Talk Save Your Relationship?

Marcia Naomi Berger, MSW, LCSW

Marcia Naomi Berger, MSW, LCSW, author of Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted (New World Library, 2014, audiobook, 2020), has a private psychotherapy practice in San Rafael, California. She offers and workshops for couples and singles, and continuing education classes for therapists at NASW conferences and online. She has taught also at the UCSF School of Medicine, UC Berkeley Extension, and Alliant International University. A former executive director of a family service agency, she earlier held senior level positions in child welfare, alcoholism treatment, and psychiatry.

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APA Reference
Berger, M. (2018). Can Self-Talk Save Your Relationship?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 5, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 11 Jan 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.