The Art of Perspective Taking in Marriage
In Child Development, Perspective Taking is a skill that starts developing in early infancy. Have you ever noticed if you have several babies in a room, and one starts crying, the others might quickly join in? When I saw my babies do this, I used to call it “Sympathy Crying” but it is really just the child’s first attempts at perspective taking.
This ability to see another person’s point of view continues to develop over the years and ideally by the time they reach adulthood, they are able to take on another’s perspective without releasing their own perspective. This leads to a well balanced, polite, kind, self assured adult.
Of course, none of us ever get to that level of perfection, because we are human.
That means that when we enter into marriage as adults, we can really quickly go to either extremes:
- See your spouses perspective so well that you relinquish your own perspective. This can look at like constantly biting your tongue in order to keep the peace. It’s constantly feeling like you have to adjust the way you do things in order to make sure he is happy. It is walking on eggshells in order to avoid a fight. Sometimes we do this in the name of trying to be kind or unselfish, but it really leads to a lot of resentment.
- Hold on to your perspective so tightly that you are unable to meaningfully connect with your spouse. This looks like constantly trying to control what is happening in your relationship. Everything from wanting him to load the dishes in the dishwasher the right way to being jealous when he goes out with friends or plays video games. We can justify this as coming from the place of “If he did things my way, he would be so much happier” but in the end, when he inevitably doesn’t do things the way we think he should, we feel resentment and frustration.
The Magic Question
When my clients come to me with these kinds of complaints, I like to ask them the magic question.
What if you are both right?
We take a look at what her husband is thinking and speculate about what he might have experienced that makes him think that way, always assuming that what he is doing makes total and complete sense to him. So what if he is right?
And what if you are right too? We look at all the reasons why your thoughts make sense and are serving you. Decide if they are working with you toward meeting your goals, and then we remember that relationships aren’t black and white, and that it is totally possible for you and your husband to both be right at the same time, even if you have opposing views.
It is kind of mind-blowing.
The Blind Men and The Elephant
To help understand the concept behind perspective taking, I love the parable of the blind men and the elephant.
The quick version of the story is that a group of blind men are walking one day and they come across an elephant standing in the road. Each of the blind men begins to investigate.
One man, examining the trunk of the elephant says, “This thing blocking our path must be like a snake. It is long and like a tube but has rough skin, swinging back and forth”
“No, that can’t be right.” Says the man examining the elephant’s leg. “this thing is more like a tree. It is strong and study and doesn’t move at all.”
“You are both wrong.” Said the blind man examining the elephant’s tail. “This thing is small and has bristles, like a small broom.”
They argued round and round in circles for hours, never finding any resolution because they were all positive that each man was right and the others were wrong, and never understanding that they were all describing different aspects of the same animal. They were ALL right.
So how can you learn to see the perspective of your spouse, while still maintaining your own, and find any practice solutions?
We go much deeper into this concept in my one on one coaching program, and practice making it into a habit when they confront this problem in their own personal circumstances. But today, I’m going to give you a couple of things to try.
- Be willing to start the conversation. Ask your spouse about their perspective, withholding all judgement. Can you talk about it without letting your judgements about the situation get in the way? Can you hear his reasons, see where he is coming from, know that his perspective is true and valid, even if you don’t agree with it? It take some practice, but it is possible to get there, my friends. Be willing to have the conversation. Be willing to open up communication, rather than try to convince him that your way is right and his way is wrong. Sometimes we are so afraid of what the reaction will be that we don’t even want to attempt to talk about it, so start with being willing to talk.
- Take turns. When you are talking, intentionally take turns. Have you ever heard of the talking stick? Same principle. Give him 10 minutes to tell you all his thoughts on the subject, without any kind of interruption. Then after he has said his piece, summarize what you heard. Really lean in and listen to what he has to say. Then it is your turn. Set a timer and talk for 10 minutes about your perspective. When you are done, have him repeat back what he heard and understood.
- Look for the common ground before diving into the differences. Remember that you are on the same team. You are reaching for the same goal, a connected and loving relationship, even if you are a little stuck on how to get there. Talk to each other from this angle. Treat each other like the hero instead of the villain in the story. When you can see that you have common ground, then you will be standing on firm ground as you navigate a discussion about possible solutions for the differences.
As you work on building this muscle of perspective taking in your marriage, you will start to see him with more love and compassion as well as see yourself with love and compassion too.
If you are still feeling stuck or overwhelmed, let me know and I will help you in whatever way I can. Like I said, this is exactly the kind of work that I walk my clients through everyday. Click the button below to learn more about how to make it happen for you too.