So, there you are having a full-on fight. You each want to prove how wrong the other is. You each want the final, clever last word. And you want your partner to truly see you, and to sympathise with your different perspectives.
Even my daughter’s dog, Juno, does this: She’s been having a barking-war with the neighbour’s dog, Charlie, though the fence. She is very devoted to her perspective. I call her in. She gives me the look that says, “Obviously you don’t know what is at stake here!” Her legs point obediently in my direction, but she throws a volley of shrill invectives over her shoulder as she trots along. That is until she collides head-long with the tree that has been there forever. This snaps her out of her invective-laden indignation. She gives up on Charlie and resumes her “I’m the cutest dog in the street” persona. If pugilism won’t work let’s try charm. Try reading, “When Distraction Stops a Fight.”
The problem with Juno is that she sees things only from her side of the fence, from her perspective. This narrow perspective blinds her from seeing anything else, including the tree. (And including the fact the Charlie is at least 3 times her size.) This is the same as the fighting couple who are locked into their personal story, and their story alone. There is no room for differing- or different- perspectives!
These two words don’t mean the same thing, but both are crucial in relationships, especially relationships where you have moved from the symbiosis stage to the differentiation stage. Briefly, differing means your opinion is in contrast to my opinion. That is, we think in opposite directions. What is right for me is wrong to you. Hence, “I beg to differ.”
Different means that your opinion may not have any connection or impact on my opinion. There may be no sense of agreement or disagreement. We both may think in independent directions. We both may be right at the same time.
Friedrich Nietzsche’s statement applies to this use of different: “You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.”
― Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
Both differing and different are likely to be true in your relationship. However, it is beyond the scope of this Insight to define this further. Please let me know how the distinction between different and differing is important to you.
There are several tricks that will put the argument on hold long enough to understand your differing perspectives as a couple.
You are in a lather because your partner is out in the yard – again, weeding, mowing, clipping, mulching. He does this routinely, without consulting you. Another weekend has gone without doing anything together. But, you haven’t said anything! Another weekend has gone by without you expressing what you need. You are waiting for change but haven’t even confronted the issue! This is a silent kind of fight, more passive than aggressive.
First. STOP! Sooth yourself. Calm yourself. This is not about being right, but about getting your point across. Then, ask yourself how you will see this issue in 6 months time. Will the problem have gone away by itself? Is this a fight that is worth having? Will you be consumed by rage by then? (No, yes, and yes.)
Next, gather your courage to find out what differing perspective your partner might have. Ask, “why is this yard stuff so important to you?” Really, really ask. And really listen. Watch Jordan Peterson on how to really listen.
Even if you think you already know, still ask. (Chances are you know a lot less than you think.) For example, “I’m curious – why are you so fussy that the front yard is neat?” While you are still annoyed about the obsessive front yard work, you have calmed yourself long enough to focus on your partner and what might be true for him.
There is a long pause. And some fidgeting.
“Well, my Dad said that you can tell a person’s character from how they keep their yard. He said a messy yard shows that the person is lazy and not to be trusted. I want to be trusted and for people to think that I have good character.”
“Oh”, you say, a bit taken aback. That’s really important, you think. Not that you agree – isn’t that a rather dated attitude?
“So, It’s not undiagnosed OCD? Really? That’s great! I’ve learned something”, you say. (You are trying to be generous though you are still resentful.) “How come I didn’t know that already? But, now I understand that you want to be seen as a person of good character, a good person in our community.”
Your partner looks surprised. “I thought you didn’t understand. But now I know you do. I feel like we are on the same side of the fence. Playing for the same team. It really matters that you’ve said it back to me, just how it is. The exact right words.”
OK, you’ve got it. Now it’s your turn to point out your differing perspectives. You , too, need to state why this issue is so important to you. What this means to you.
For example, “I am glad to know that. I understand a lot more about the yard business. But, I also wish we could have more fun on the weekends, rather than spending all the time doing jobs. All that yard work makes me feel that we are missing the point of life. I’m disappointed in us. I want to have the kind of fun we had when we were first together.” You get just a whiff of your own peevish tone.
Your partner puts down the rake and looks at the pile of leaves. He looks disappointed. “We didn’t have a house of our own then. Remember, we were renting. We had all the time in the world for fun. But the thing I longed for then is exactly what we have now.” He gestures to the pile of leaves, “this is fun to me. It’s not only about having a good reputation.”
It dawns on you that you are dwelling on a past stage of your relationship that no longer exists. Read, “Allow yourself and your partner to be fluid, not fixed“. And that your own perspective is exactly that; a perspective, but not the whole truth. Perhaps you’ve been a bit one-sided. Well, just a teeny little bit…
You gather an armful of leaves. “What I’d like to do is finish the yard-work together, and then do something fun, that I’ve been longing to do. With you. Would that work for you too?”
I will leave you in suspense. What you have proposed might or might not work for your partner. But this is the risk you have to take to be authentic in your relationship. You put forward what you want and bear the tension of being accepted or rejected. Either way, you have made a move towards both individuation and differentiation. Well done!
Watch Dr Jordan Peterson talk about chapter 9 in his book, “12 Rules fo Life.