When you look into a pool of water and see your own reflection looking back at you from the surface, you see your World as you know it. The image is familiar. When you taste your favourite food, perhaps you find it hard to understand why anyone wouldn’t love it just as much as you. When you hear your favourite song, you perhaps smile as it reminds you of a time from the past, perhaps your student years. And when you smell a certain perfume or aftershave, or a bonfire, or summer flowers, maybe it transports you back to a different time and place in your mind.
We all have our own, unique way of experiencing and interpreting the World around us. The way we relate to the World and others is shaped by our past, our environment, our experiences, our childhood. All of these factors help to create the shape and “colour” of our lens.
We each form our own, unique “lens” that we view the World through. We create rules for ourselves, others people, and the World, based on the colour of the lens that we look through.
For example, from your own lens, you might view yourself as worthy of love, you might view your World as a safe place, you might believe that other people are generally trustworthy. Or you might not. Whatever your experience, your lens often makes complete sense to you. It is your truth.
This is where many couples become stuck.
The problem is NOT that your lens is one colour and your partner’s is another. In fact this is entirely normal and unavoidable. The problem is when you don’t realise it. Perhaps you don’t even have an awareness of your own lens. All you know is, from your perspective – “this is the way the world is”, “this is what’s important”, “this is the way we do things”. So you ASSUME your partner has the same colour lens as you. And your partner assumes that you have the same colour lens as them. And when you argue, unconsciously you are both trying to convince each other that YOUR lens is the correct colour, and your partner’s is just wrong.
And because you are not consciously aware of this, and because you are so invested in your own lens, you really struggle to understand why your partner doesn’t get why you are so upset, why they aren’t finding the same things as important as you, why they are not living by YOUR rules – so you assume that maybe they just don’t care.
I’ll give you an example. Simon* was clearly annoyed. He was struggling to keep focussed whilst Janet* was talking, even though they were beginning to understand the importance of letting each other speak without interruptions. He was shifting in his chair and had folded his arms, tilted his body away, and all he could think about was defending himself from what he felt was a verbal attack. Janet was completely at a loss to understand why. She had thought she had chosen her words carefully, and knowing that Simon was likely to become defensive, she was really taking the time to speak clearly and slowly to avoid any mis-interpretation of her message. All she wanted was for Simon to listen to her about how she wanted him to help more with the children.
Let’s say Simon’s lens was green. From his green lens, he was feeling as though Janet was being condescending. There was something about her facial expression, about the way she lifted her head, widened her eyes, and spoke slowly. It reminded him of the way his Mother used to lecture him for hours about the “right way to do things.” He felt triggered. And so he assumed that Janet was being patronising. When his Mother would lecture him as a child, he would shut down and stop listening. So this is exactly what he did with Janet. It was his self-preservation mode kicking in.
Janet’s lens was orange. From her orange lens, she was becoming frustrated with Simon, as often when she tried to talk to him, she would notice him withdraw and shut down. Desperate for that not to happen, she would approach any complaint or request for change with caution. She would unconsciously widen her eyes and raise her eyebrows in the same way that a child does when they are trying to show their innocence, to look approachable and trustworthy. She would also back away slightly and lift her head up to show Simon that she was giving him space, and would try to talk slowly and calmly so as not to sound as though she was attacking him. When Simon withdrew it would remind her of how distant her Father used to be with her and her Mother and how if he didn’t want to hear something, he would simply ignore it and walk away.
Can you see the problem? Both viewed the situation through completely different lenses. This meant that they were mis-interpreting each other.
Left to their own devices, Simon would have started becoming angry and telling Janet that she was being patronising, and Janet would start telling Simon that she was being cold and distant.
What was different this time was that I helped them to both recognise the colour of their own lenses, and their individual experiences that had helped to shape and colour them. This then lead to them being able to appreciate the different colour lenses that they each had, and therefore empathise with each-other’s perspective. And rather than wasting time and energy trying to convince each other that their own lens was the correct one, they were able to accept instead that both of their lenses were valid viewpoints.
From there they were able to create a middle perspective, which honoured both of their experiences, whilst at the same time allowing for the possibility of a more rational discussion about the issue at hand.
Next time you are feeling triggered by something your partner has said or done, or feel like they just don’t understand you, consider the following:-
- Do you know why that particular issue bothers you so much?
- Have you experienced similar feelings before? If so how did you deal with them then?
- Have you explained to your partner why the issue affects you so much?
- Have you asked your partner about how they view the situation?
Try this exercise:-
- Ask yourself; “If I were in my partner’s shoes right now, how might I be viewing the situation if I were them?”
- Ask your partner to do the same.
- Then share your answers with each other.
- Correct any mis-interpretations or assumptions with each other in a kind and respectful way.
You don’t have to continue to repeat the same patterns with each other. You have the ability to make powerful changes in your relationship if you are willing to invest the time and energy.
Your relationship needs regular attention and maintenance, just as a garden needs cultivation to grow and bloom, rather than become tangled and overgrown. TWEET THIS.
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Take care for now!
*Client confidentiality is always protected. Case studies are therefore fictional and for illustrative purposes only.