Relationship Skills: Reconciling Different Perspectives

Susan has the belief that’s its good to spend money enjoying herself now since there are no guarantees she won’t be run over by a bus tomorrow.

Her partner Patrick has the belief that its important to delay gratification to build wealth to have more options later.

Susan and Patrick argue about money.

What do Patrick and Susan need to do to discuss their finances without feeling defensive?

Patrick and Susan need to understand that contradictory perspectives can both have valid logic behind them.

Its understandable that Susan thinks that living in the moment is important.

Its understandable that Patrick thinks that delaying gratification to have more options later is important.

Often, people don’t want to acknowledge that another person’s perspective has some validity to it because they think that doing that implies that they agree with it.

You can acknowledge that someone else’s perspective is valid without having to agree with it.

Its not important to agree. It is important to acknowledge the validity of your partner’s thinking (i.e. that they have reasonable reasons for thinking the way they do). Its not enough just to think this, you need to clearly express it to your partner.

What else can Patrick and Suzy do to better understand each other?

Patrick can help Susan understand why comprising is difficult for him if he tells Susan that he feels anxious that in the future they might not have enough money, and he feels shame and a sense of failure at the thought they might not be able to help their children out financially e.g. for university or a house deposit.

Susan can help Patrick understand her perspective if she explains that she fears “regretting what she didn’t do.”

What gets in the way of people understanding each other?

– People often aren’t very good at explaining themselves: They leave out some of the most important reasons and emotions when trying to explain why something is important to them.
– People often aren’t very good at putting themselves in another person’s shoes and seeing their perspective.
– People feel shy about explaining their reasoning. Their thoughts might not be clearly formulated so they might feel awkward and stumble (This is better than not trying and sometimes you need to speak your thoughts to become clear about them). Explaining your reasoning also comes with a certain level of vulnerability – it requires a leap of faith that you partner will not be dismissive of your reasoning.
– When people feel strong negative emotions (e.g. anger) its often difficult for them to express their thoughts. Couples therapy can help with this because the therapist buffers some of the emotions which enables partners to express their true thoughts to each other without either partner feeling overwhelmed.

This relationship skill also applies to other types of relationships.

Although the example I used was about a couple relationship the advice contained in this article also applies to other types of relationships e.g. conflict between family members.