One of the most common mistakes we make in a relationship is to assume our partner’s experience of the world is pretty much the same as ours.
It’s understandable. After all, our own perception is all we’ve got to go on, and it’s what we’ve been living with since we were born. But I’ve found that taking the time and trouble to get a better sense of what life feels like for my partner is one of the most valuable investments I’ve made in our relationship. It’s also one of life’s great adventures—learning to see the world through the eyes of another person is an exciting way to expand my own experience of being alive. It’s like taking a holiday in another country, where everything is fresh and interesting.
Most of us have some blind spots when it comes to empathizing with, respecting, and understanding other people. And all too often, when there is a misunderstanding, what could be a journey to greater mutual understanding and appreciation descends into an argument about who is more “right” (or a power struggle of some kind).
I’ve learned that because my partner and I see the world differently in some important ways, it’s pointless for either of us to try to convince the other that they are “wrong” for not seeing things the same way. This only leads to conflict and aggression, as each of us tries to assert our particular version of the world. But if I take a stance of being open to and curious about our differences, I can welcome any conflict as an opportunity to learn more about why she feels the way she does. This way, I broaden my own perspective, and also develop a much greater sense of closeness and intimacy with her.
It’s easy to assume that because my partner and I were using the same language, we were experiencing the same kinds of feelings. But this is only likely to be true about facts and external things, and not when we are trying to express deeper emotions.
For example, I instinctively know what I mean by the word ‘’love,” but it’s taking time for me to learn what that means to my partner. Another error that I have made on numerous occasions has been to offer her the kind of advice/support that I’d be happy to get—when I know in hindsight that it wasn’t what she needed from me at all.
When I try to step into my partner’s world, I always try to be receptive and respectful—not like the kind of annoying tourist that gets frustrated when people from another culture don’t act the way he’s used to back home.
To connect on a deep level with her, I need to learn about her world; and the only way to do that is by patiently listening and practising, checking back that I’ve understood what she’s trying to express. It’s the same with sharing my own feelings with her.
By both taking the time to do this, we have built a bridge of mutual understanding, in the middle of which we can meet and embrace, and have avoided building a wall of mutual frustration and resentment.
What a tragedy it would be if, because of misunderstanding, or not being open to sharing and learning about our uniquely human differences, we missed out on the wonderful opportunity life has given us to get to know, and love, each other in the most interesting and meaningful way.