Andrea made an insightful, funny comment about her mother-in-law that, at the same time, was hurtful and thoughtless. The argument got out of hand, and they brought it up in therapy.
Married eight years, Andrea and Alan led a generally happy life raising their two children. They fought occasionally over different topics, and there was an underlying commonality to those arguments. They both wanted to be right. The believed every disagreement had one interpretation, and they both wanted the other to agree. In truth, the same event can have two entirely different interpretations, and both can be true. Couples who understand that idea, or at least work to understand it, have happier relationships.
We all understand our partners were raised in different ways by different families. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or a psychologist) to realize our partners are going to have different senses of humor, boundaries, levels of sarcasm, sensitivity, etc.; we just tend to forget this in the heat of a disagreement.
For the record, Andrea’s comment was, “Of course your mom thinks you should quit your job, she thinks fairies fill her bank account.”
Andrea reported no malice or judgement toward Alan’s mother, in fact, she was fond of her. Andrea’s wealthy mother-in-law lived a sheltered life, and Andrea thought her mother-in-law was trying to be sweet and supportive yet was completely out of touch. Andrea had heard Alan joke about his mother’s limited life experience and thought it was safe territory. But hearing that comment from his wife felt disrespectful to Alan. He didn’t think it was funny, he thought it was insulting.
Both interpretations are accurate. Andrea meant no harm, and Andrea’s comment was insensitive. Like all couples, Alan and Andrea had different perspectives based on their personalities, backgrounds, and the subject at hand. Andrea and Alan had a history of viewing situations from a different perspective – disciplining the kids, where to go on vacation, which friends are more fun to hang out with, how to decorate – and it often led to arguments and stalemates. They both felt the need to be right, and they wanted the other one to agree. The problem is, when one person wants to win, the couple loses. That approach leads to unresolved conflict which rears its ugly head in different ways.
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Instead of digging in and fighting about whose perspective was accurate, Andrea could simply acknowledge her comment was hurtful to Alan. Alan could acknowledge Andrea wasn’t intending to be hurtful. There is a certain amount of peace that comes with acknowledging both perspectives are accurate. Most of their arguments had different but equally accurate interpretations. They were both correct in identifying different vacation spots as well as their own taste in decorating. Acknowledging this truth makes many arguments unnecessary. In relationships, the goal is not to view the world the same way; the goal is to understand the way your partner views the world and respect it as absolutely accurate from their perspective.