Body | Mind | Soul
© John Ballew, MS, LPC, CMT. All Rights Reserved.
Want to change your relationship? Change your point of view.
I enjoy being a therapist for many reasons, but mostly because people are just so darn interesting. We’re all the same in some ways, and yet so different in others. Someone told me once, “Always remember that you’re unique – just like everyone else.
And all that’s even more true in exploring relationships. Often a couple will sit in my office and describe something they did together, but from perspectives that are so different you have to wonder if each of them were actually there. What’s up with that?
People cling to their stories like drowning men holding on to a sinking boat. Maybe they’ve seen too many television crime dramas where the job is to search for a truth that will stand up in court. Call it the myth of “objective reality.” We imagine that if we were there when something happened (an argument, for instance), then our perspective is a truth that we witnessed. Any passerby who witnessed the event would come to the same conclusion we did. So why is the guy we’re in love with being so obstinate about seeing things our way?
For better or worse, human beings aren’t camcorders. We don’t just take note of what happens in our world, we filter it through our values, expectations, histories and experiences. That’s how we make the world an understandable place. And since your filters aren’t quite like mine, you and I can share an experience and yet have different interpretations of it.
What does this look like in relationships? If I’ve got my point-of-view and you’ve got yours and we’re equally sure our own is the correct one, we’re much more likely to get in a struggle about which of us is right rather than working toward a mutually-satisfying conclusion. We’re less interested in understanding our partner than we are in convincing him of something. His behavior just doesn’t make sense!
This approach is a great one if your goal is to have communication between the two of you deteriorate into a series of painful arguments. Doesn’t matter what the argument is about; trivial pursuits can be just as aggravating as substantial ones. What matters is that one of us must be right, and the other must be wrong. Right?
I think that one of the things that make such arguments so painful is that we feel hopeless to alter the course of them. We find ourselves headed for a fight over who said what last night feeling like we’re watching a canoe pulled inevitably towards a waterfall. We’ve traveled this route before, and we feel doomed to repeat it again and again. When it feels like our truthfulness is being questioned, it’s easy to get defensive.
What to do, then? The first step is to let go of the certainty that you know exactly what is going on, and that your job is to get your partner to give in. (Even if you win and he does give in, it’s not likely to leave you feeling better.) The second step is to talk it through with your partner to try and understand what he’s feeling – not to convince him of your point of view. (You’ll likely find that this makes him less defensive, too.) Third, explain what’s going on inside you. In a healthy relationship, you’ll find that this sooths feathers and calms the urge to argue, leading to greater understanding. When that happens, you’ll find yourself working as a team to make each other happier rather than simply to prove who is right and who is wrong.
© John R. Ballew
John R. Ballew is a licensed professional counselor in private practice in Atlanta, specializing in issues related to coming out, sexuality, relationships, and spirituality. Find him at BodyMindSoul.org.