24 Mar Opposing versions of “reality” keep partners stuck

We’ve all been there. Trying to debrief after an argument with our partner, only to be infuriated when his or her version of what actually happened is completely different to ours.

fork in the road photo
How can two people both experience the same event but come away with such different accounts of what actually happened? And how can we even begin to resolve an argument, when we can’t even agree about the facts?

If you and you partner get stuck in the (usually unwinable) battle of proving that one reality (yours) is correct whilst the other (his or hers) is simply untrue/demented/outright crazy, it’s because you’re trying to achieve the impossible.

It’s unrealistic to expect that two people will share the exact same realities about anything, especially a relationship challenge, when emotions are usually running high. It’s also not necessary for successful conflict resolution. But understanding (and accepting) the difference between objective and subjective truths is crucial.

Objective information is the facts, such as what, where, who, and when:

“We were in the car on our way to dinner and we started arguing about the mortgage.”

It might also include objective knowledge, such as:

“The bank will charge interest if the payment is not made on time.”

Partners don’t usually get stuck on the objective stuff because it’s factual and not open to personal interpretation.

Subjective information, on the other hand, is your own internal reality, and includes your opinions, interpretations, beliefs, values, assumptions, expectations, and ideas. These are “truths” that only you can own.

When partners believe that their own subjective reality is a universal truth, things get stuck. They speak on behalf of each other, with statements such as:

“It was obvious that you didn’t care about my concerns, because you told me to stop talking about it”, or

“You were really trying to avoid getting involved because you just want me to do all the worrying on my own”

These are subjective opinions masquerading as objective truths and will sabotage any successful debriefing of an issue, because for your partner, they may be simply untrue.

DO NOT speak on behalf of your partner. Your job is simply to “own” and communicate your own subjective “truth”.

Once you stop using the “you” word (speaking on behalf of your partner) and start speaking for yourself, you will sound more like this:

It’s important to me to pay my bills on time and I know I get anxious when the mortgage is overdue”, or

To me it seemed that you didn’t care about me, and that was hurtful”, or

My interpretation was that you think it’s my fault and that I should fix it alone”

Once partners start “speaking for self”, they stop butting heads.

It’s impossible to argue about your partners internal reality, because it belongs to him or her and cannot be “wrong”. When partners understand this they start actually listening. Then they start building bridges to new solutions.

Disagreements, arguments, and differences of opinion are very healthy for marriages and relationships, but only if they’re done well.

Discussing an issue effectively is hard work and takes time. Like any new skill, the hard work happens at the beginning, and the more you practice, the more expert you will become.

The good news is that once you approach your conflicts this way, you’ll have less of them, and you’ll also resolve them very quickly. You’ll be free from the repeating cycles of arguments that go nowhere, and well on the way to building a great relationship and love that lasts.

Want to work more on resolving arguments more successfully for a happier marriage? Contact Pamela, and let’s get started.