By Kyle Benson
Heather’s voice raises as she says, “How can you not see it my way? It’s the truth and you know it. You’re just too stubborn to admit it!”
Jason responds, “That’s not what happened at all. How can you not see that? I’m right, you’re wrong. You admit it!”
I step in, “Hey, I’m going to stop you guys because it feels like we’re missing each other.”
They both look at me as Heather says, “Well… Who’s right? Me or him?”
“You both are. Let me explain.”
Heather and Jason’s argument demonstrates one of the most common problems during the conflict: often, partners see each other as enemies rather than intimate allies in a battle against misunderstanding. This is why partners use the four horsemen and blame each other for their relationship problems, which is destructive to their emotional bond and leads to more disconnection and fighting.
To turn things around during your next State of the Union conversation, when you are the Speaker make sure you pay attention to the “T” in Dr. Gottman’s ATTUNE conversation model. The “T” stands for tolerance which, means accepting that every situation can yield two different yet valid perspectives that deserve equal weight. To help you do this, I want to share three perspective shifts that have done wonders for couples.
These three perspective shifts also remind us that there is always something worth learning from your partner’s viewpoint. By gaining a new perspective on what is going on, conflict stops functioning as a barrier to connection and becomes a bridge to understanding each other better.
Conflict is in the space between
One perspective shift I talk about with couples is shifting from viewing the problem as the other person’s fault to viewing the problem as inhabiting the space between each other. When couples are fighting, I like to use the metaphor that partners are like separate islands with murky water separating them.
Instead of trying to fix each other, partners should focus on cleaning that murky water. After the water is cleaned up, both partners can dive below the surface of what appears to be going on to discover what is actually going on.
The island visual is also helpful because it figuratively illustrates that we need to travel to our partner’s island to see their perspective of the world. Typically when we are in conflict, we become stuck on our island and start throwing verbal rocks at our partner’s island. But if we swim over, walk around, and see the problem from their vantage point, we increase the chances of shifting our perspective to “Oh, I can totally understand how you see it this way. That makes perfect sense to me.”
Once you accept the idea that in every disagreement there are always two valid points of view, it’s no longer necessary to argue for your own position. Instead, you can empathize with your partner’s feelings and really understand their “island.” This doesn’t mean you have to agree, but it’s vital that you understand where they are coming from. When you do this and your partner does this for you, it becomes much easier to find a solution that works for both of you.