Ricky s first challenge is his own mental state. He strongly suspects that Elena is cheating on him. He s almost certain of it. Furthermore, he is certain that if she is being unfaithful, she will lie to cover it up. That s what happened in his first marriage . It s what guilty people do. Because Ricky is so certain that Elena will lie, his natural tendency is to charge in with an accusation, hoping to startle her into revealing something. He ll be able to tell what s really going on by her reaction.
To get his emotions under control, Ricky examines his story. He vigorously attempts to generate alternative explanations for Elena s current behavior. He tells the rest of the story. He does his best to determine why a reasonable, rational, and decent person might do what she s doing. What influences could explain those behaviors beyond the fact that she s a lying, cheating hussy? Here are a few of the other factors Ricky considers as he contemplates all six sources of influence:
Ricky knows that Elena has a strong desire to succeed. She is climbing the ladder at work and is willing to pay the price.
She may be avoiding talking to him because she worries about having an ugly confrontation.
He clearly is contributing. He has taken to making sarcastic comments about the time she spends with her boss. He has been much less affectionate lately. Of course she finds less joy in being around him.
Elena has seemed especially anxious about their expenses. That could be showing up in her acceptance of more overtime.
Their work schedules are keeping them from spending much time together. That can t be helping.
As Ricky explores alternative explanations, something profound happens to him: He calms down. Of course, he s careful to not let this line of reasoning talk him into blaming himself. His goal is simply to balance the lying, cheating hussy story with other possibilities. He wants to be able to enter the conversation without adrenaline coursing through his veins, turning him into a slavering moron. The effect of this is significant. The new story creates a sense of curiosity and compassion. He begins to hold his suspicions more tentatively. He still wants to talk but is less inclined to become emotional and leap in with an accusation.
Ricky worries that anything he says about a possible affair is likely to make Elena nervous, and so he decides to start by making it safe. He does that by using his two safety tools: He establishes Mutual Purpose by talking about common ground, and he uses Contrasting to clarify any possible misunderstandings.