John, our teenager, was looking forward to a weekend event with his buddies at church. But he never got to go. Why? Because each of us thought the other had submitted the payment. But neither of us had. And it was too late. All the spots were filled. John wasn’t happy and our marriage was feeling the pain.
“You always take care of that stuff,” Les exclaimed.
“But this was something you and John talked about.”
“I know but I still thought you had the paperwork to fill out,” Les protested.
“I did but you could have done it.”
We blamed each other for a few moments and then one of us said, “Okay, I can see why you thought I was taking care of it.”
That was that.
Chalk it up to a simple misunderstanding.
Every marriage is full of them. Right? They’re endemic. And if any couple says they don’t have many misunderstandings, they’re misunderstanding the question.
Misunderstandings are a part of every married couple’s life. And if we don’t learn how to manage them, they manage us and we’ll soon be embroiled in perpetual conflict.
In fact, misunderstandings are one of the most common roadblocks to happiness in marriage. We discovered this fact while writing our new book, Making Happy: The Art and Science of a Happy Marriage. If you’re looking for happiness in love, you won’t find it with two people who feel misunderstood.
Misunderstandings are exasperating for the simple fact that both sides see it from their angle only.
It only takes one person to put their perspective on hold and see the issue from their partner’s point of view. That’s all. If one person does this, the misunderstanding is resolved, the tension eases, and life moves forward.
It only takes one person to turn around a misunderstanding by honoring the other’s perspective. That’s what the Paul was getting at when we said, “Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10).
When we honor our spouse we have an internal attitude of respect and courtesy. But it’s more than lip service. So how do we do this? Here’s three tips:
- Press your mental “pause” button. If you ever want to circumvent misunderstanding, you have to stand back, cool down, and be objective. You can’t turn it around by staying hot and bothered.
- Use your head. Be objective and ask what it would be like to literally be in your spouse’s shoes. After a day like they’ve had, what would it feel like to be in their skin? This will take some effort but try your best.
- Use your heart. Feel your partner’s feelings. How? Say something like, “Are you feeling like I’m belittling you right now?” And listen. Listen aggressively – not just to the words but the feelings underneath them.
Do these three things and you can’t help but honor your partner with respect. You can help but to change your perspective because you’ll see the issue through your partner’s eyes.
And here’s a secret – your new perspective is contagious. So don’t be surprised when you spouse does the same for you.
Drs. Les & Leslie Parrott are psychologists and #1 New York Times best-selling authors of Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts. The Parrott’s speak in more than thirty cities annually and they are founders of the renowned SYMBIS Assessment for couples. Learn more at LesAndLeslie.com.
Categories: Extending Empathy