Blog, September 1, 2015:
Some Musings on Relationships
As a therapist I often sit with couples and listen to them describe an incident. Frequently their individual experiences and recounting are so different, it doesn't even sound like the same event! Each person individually holds onto his/her experience and viewpoint as if it were 'the truth.' But there is no one truth. There are many truths. Many perspectives. There are as many interpretations of events as there are lenses through which to view them. Depending upon our upbringing, life experience, wounds (healed and unhealed), current state of mind and being, we will experience the very same incident in different ways.
The keys to understanding each other in relationship appear to be: wanting to know and being willing to hear and understand the other's experience, and reminding oneself that ours is not the only valid viewpoint and experience. Our partner, friend or family member has his/her viewpoint and experience that is equally valid. If we can let go of being 'right' and acknowledge there is no one truth, we can begin to really hear and really see the other.
In healthy relationships we are curious about the other's experience. We listen to their experience and try to understand it. And from this standpoint of respect, we get to know and understand the other, no matter how alien, distasteful, or hurtful their behavior initially appears to us.
When we come from a place of curiosity (no-judgment) and true understanding, not very much is abhorrent. It may not be to our liking, but we are not repulsed or excessively reactive. We are able to respond and not react. We may not like it or agree, but we have more understanding and empathy. When we have this mutual understanding in a relationship, be it a friendship or a romantic partnership, we are able to communicate in a healthy and beneficial manner, and we are better able to resolve conflicts and disagreements.
And then there is the matter of emotional safety. Emotional safety enables us to share our vulnerabilities - our weaknesses and fears, our thoughts and feelings, our hopes and dreams. Emotional safety means you will not dismiss or negate or diminish my experience or feelings. For me it is an essential aspect of any relationship of depth. I don't need this with work colleagues or superficial friends and family, but I need it in a romantic partnership and in good friendships.
In my professional experience, most people need this, or certainly want it. I know there are persons out there who will deny needing or wanting such a thing. I am not in a position to dispute this. I just want them to know that their partners most likely do want and need it. And even if they profess not to need this, I think it is part of the human condition to want to be seen and heard and understood. And this is what we should be striving for in our close relationships, and to a lesser degree in all our interactions.