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The Power of Perspective in Our Relationships

Matthew Cuddeback LCSW

           One of the topics I discuss in couples therapy the most, is a simple concept but not at all easy to navigate. This is the idea that perspective and experience shape our interactions with others and particularly our partners, and that while we may feel things have happened a certain way, our partner may have experienced it differently. Navigating this is a powerful tool when figuring out how best to communicate with our partners.

           There is a simple way I like to describe this that can be a helpful shortcut. Imagine sitting across from your partner, you are facing each other, and you write the number 9. Now your partner looks at it and says it’s a 6. Your partner says confidently that what they are seeing is a 6, and you say, no I meant for that to be a 9. Even though you intended for that to be a 9, your partner is seeing it as a 6. Simple, right? However, the difficult part of this is that you are certain you meant for it to be a 9, you were the one that created it and you definitely created a 9. But you cannot deny that when they look at it it is unquestionably a 6. Your partner says you can’t tell them it is a 9 when they know for sure it’s a 6.

           This is the same thing that happens when we say something or do something, and our partner experienced it differently. You didn’t pick them up from work and they see this as being an example of you feeling their needs are not important. You are sure that this is not what happened, you didn’t intend for them to feel unimportant. However, they definitely do feel unimportant. Often times this goes in a negative direction because we often cling to what we believe to be true especially when we are being accused of something we don’t like. However, if we allow ourselves to understand that what our partner is experiencing is actually just as valid, suddenly we can get to the heart of the matter instead of getting stuck on the surface layer of the issue and staying stuck in our own defensiveness.

           What happens when we do this is we allow ourselves to understand not only that our partners are equally valid in their experience, but it also helps give us insight into their struggles too. For example, our partner not feeling they are important when you forgot to pick them up can clue you into what may be on their mind. Perhaps they are reminded of childhood wounds with having been forgotten at school by their parent, perhaps it triggers negative feelings from a past relationship, or even feeling unimportant at times in your relationship, maybe this wasn’t the first time. Understanding this helps you see when they are feeling unimportant it isn’t wrong for them to feel the way they do, but while you may not have intended this effect, you can understand where it came from.

           This can also help clue you in to how to manage it, when they tell you they feel you don’t prioritize them or think they are important, it is easy to be defensive and tell them they are wrong. But recognizing they are not wrong, and neither are you, you can move toward what is more important, repairing the situation. Imagine if instead of getting mad for being accused of deprioritizing or not appreciating them and demanding they understand that’s not true, you tell them you are sorry for what happened and while you can understand why they felt that way, they are very important to you. It helps them feel heard and understood. After this you can also move to exploring the idea that while you can understand why they felt that way, you didn’t intend it and discuss how you both experienced this differently, not with defensiveness but with understanding.

           I tell people all the time, in couples therapy, that you are both right and both wrong. You can both be right while having completely different interpretations of the same event or situation. It is hard to let go of the idea that there is only one version of a situation, but when we do, we open ourselves up to understanding each other and having more honest communication with our partners, the truth is that what you wrote is both a 9 and 6 and neither person is more correct than the other for their interpretation of it.

If you’re struggling in your relationship, contact Symmetry Counseling to connect with a couples therapist in Chicago for support.

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