Quit Taking Your Spouse’s Perspective
Who should you think about during an argument with your spouse—me, you, I, us??? That is a good question. We have probably all heard the advice to step back and see our spouse’s point of view during an argument. This common wisdom advises us to see things through the other person’s eyes and walk a mile in his or her shoes. When you do, the advice-giver explains, you will feel less upset. Your understanding will improve. You will more quickly resolve the conflict…so the advice goes. However, recent research suggests this folk wisdom may be wrong! In fact, a study of 111 couples found that taking the other person’s perspective actually made things worse, especially for those with a “less-than-positive sense of self-worth.” Now, let’s face it…in the midst of a fight with our spouse you can bet that at least one person is experiencing a “less-than-positive sense of self-worth.” Anyway, it seems that when a person looks at the conflict from his spouse’s perspective, he begins to wonder what they are thinking or feeling about him. In other words, when I look through my spouse’s eyes I see myself…and begin to wonder what she is thinking about me in the midst of the conflict. Thoughts I imagine my spouse having about me take up my mental energy and focus. “She’s blaming me!” “He thinks I don’t care.” “She’s angry about my work.” “She doesn’t believe I’m trying my hardest.” These thoughts and thoughts like them increase our self-doubt and decrease our sense of self-worth. When the argument is over, the person who looked at things through his spouse’s eyes feels even less satisfied and more insecure in their relationship.
Instead of trying to see the conflict from your spouse’s point of view, take a more objective approach with these two suggestions.
- Imagine how you would feel in a similar situation. This is different than seeing things from your spouse’s perspective. Rather than imagining how your spouse feels or how your spouse thinks about this conflict, imagine how you would feel in a similar situation. Couples who did this showed an increase in empathy.
- Put on your Sherlock Holmes’s hat and get curious about your spouse. Observe your spouse’s behavior. Take the time to notice how your words, actions, and tone of voice impact them. Respectfully and lovingly modify your words and actions to elicit the most helpful response in the situation. In other words, discuss the difficult issue using a tone of voice that will help your spouse to stay calm and words more likely to elicit a calm response. Go ahead and disagree, but use respectful words and end with a hug. You get the idea. Observe your spouse’s reaction to you and adjust your behavior accordingly.
Forget the folk wisdom…quit taking your spouse’s perspective. Take an objective view. Watch your spouse and work to soothe them as you imagine what you might feel in the same situation…and enjoy a “satisfying” argument.