When couples come into my office, they are stuck and in conflict. Some are clearly fighting to win the battle. They painfully cycle through patterns of blame, resentment and righteousness.
George and Karen* came to see me for “communication problems”. In session, their conversations played out exactly what happened between them at home.
George accused Karen of some misbehavior that occurred. Karen responded by saying, “That’s not what happened. Where do you even get that?” and proceeded to share her rendition of “what really happened”.
George retorted, “No! You have it all wrong. That’s not what I said to your brother”. Then he looked at me, shaking his head “no”, exasperated.
The battle of detailed accounts escalated. Both held onto their story with a white-knuckle grip, no resolution in sight.
Both accused the other of fabricating details of the story when in essence, the actual story mattered far less than how they dealt with their differences in that moment.
Have you ever heard of the story about the 6 kids who leave the family nest? Each recounts their childhood and one sibling says to the other, “What house did you grow up in? It was nothing like that!”
That story highlights how our perspectives become our reality. Yes, facts exist but your interpretation of them rests on your own history, experiences, ideas, dreams, wants, desires and fears.
I physically held my arm and hand in the air and pretended to wave a white flag in session. Surprising George and Karen, I said, “Guess what? Neither story is true!” With my guidance, they learned:
- The truth did not sit with either one of them but somewhere in the space between them.
- They both had a right to interpret that truth in their own way.
- How to shift away from defense and instead, accept that their partner had a different interpretation of what happened.
- How to develop compassion for their partner’s version of events.
- How to make room for their partner’s story even if they didn’t agree with it.
- How to make room for their partner’s story without having to give up their own version.
They now understood that their partner’s view was not “the truth” but an interpretation of events. Practiced often enough, this couple began to soften their arguments. They no longer felt a need to dig their heels in, to prove themselves right, to win the battle. Instead, they learned to let go, make room for each other’s stories and feel compassion for each other.
If your relationship feels like George and Karen’s, stuck, disconnected and argumentative, I can help you stop your patterns of unhealthy disagreement.
If you want to learn one of the methods George and Karen used to develop more compassion for each other despite disagreement, stay tuned for my next blog post: Compassion in the Face of Conflict.
*George and Karen are fictitious names to protect client confidentiality.