Relationship Mishaps, Differing Perspectives and 3 Vital Conversations

We all make mistakes, those relationship mishaps like forgetting to pick up milk on the way home from work as promised, or failing to acknowledge an anniversary, or not paying attention when our partner is sharing something important with us—these “oops” moments are pretty cut and dry: You messed up, you admit it, you apologize, and then you both move on.

But not every relationship mishap is so black and white.

Relationship Help: When Two Realities Clash

There are many instances where one of you may feel the other has erred in some way without mutual agreement about what has actually transpired (you might have very different versions about how and why something occurred).  In these instances, your partner may feel like you’ve messed up while you believe s/he is making a mountain out of a mole hill—clearly this level of disconnect is a recipe for insidious marital or relationship conflict.

When this occurs, couples often ask themselves some version of the following questions—questions  that may add fuel to the relationship fire:

  • Who’s really “right”? (This implies someone has to be unquestionably wrong.)
  • Is there an ultimate truth that must be identified when these type of disagreements happen?

As you might imagine, under most circumstances such questions create a greater divide because the only resolution is for one person to accept the truth-perspective of the other while ultimately rejecting his/her own.  When these questions are part of the relationship landscape, you or your partner are suggesting the following:

“Admit you’re wrong, abandon your perspective and embrace mine, and then we can move on to living happily ever after.”

This approach violates our basic human condition: The need to have our reality—a reality where our feelings take center-stage—acknowledged and understood. This is why this approach often fails miserably.

The Power of Emotions in Shaping Our Reality

Very often we “know” something is wrong in our relationship (or right, for that matter) because of the feelings we have about what has or is transpiring with our partner.

In other words, your emotional reactions color your reality; your feelings act as a signal that shapes your truth-perspective. So when you’ve done something wrong in your partner’s eyes, it’s not only the “facts” of what happened that are considered, but more importantly, your partner’s feelings about what happened (or what didn’t happen). 

Our feelings can be an important  source of information: They inform us about what is and isn’t working in our relationship. Positive emotions (such as feelings of security, closeness, contentment, happiness, playfulness, joy, etc.) let us know that our relationship is working well for us, whereas “negative” emotions (such as insecurity, loneliness, anger, distress, hurt, jealousy, etc.) inform us that something is amiss that may need to be addressed. 

And the intensity of your emotional reactions regarding a particular event (intense anger rather than mild annoyance) may signal that:

1)  An important, core value you hold has been violated in some way;


2) Your sense of emotional security and safety in the relationship has been threatened.

So the more intense your feelings, the more important and serious the issue is for you (assuming, of course, that other factors aren’t impacting your feelings).

It’s usually the person having the stronger emotional reaction who has more at stake: Not only is s/he upset about something that has already happened, but now s/he is faced with the likelihood that his/her feelings may be minimized or totally discounted—the fallout from this emotional double-whammy is considerable and, if not properly addressed, a pattern of estrangement can take hold.

So what should couples do when one partner is emotionally reeling over something the other partner feels is insignificant?

3 Conversations Couples Should Be Having:

One way to approach this thorny issue is to come to an agreement that this is not a right-versus-wrong issue. Such a mindset will only lead to incessant disagreements and battles that make life miserable for all involved. Rather, couples should prepare for these challenging events by acknowledging that such events are inevitable and can, with effort and sensitivity, be worked through to the benefit of the marriage/relationship.

1) Acknowledge the Inevitable

This conversation might go something like:

“There will be times where one of us is really upset with the other and there will be disagreements about what exactly happened and who is responsible. One of us may feel that something really upsetting has happened between us while the other may feel like nothing significant has occurred. Let’s acknowledge that this is a common occurrence in long-term relationships and develop a communication plan for when this does occur.”

2) Abandon Any Thoughts of Right-Versus-Wrong

This conversation might go something like:

“When we disagree about something important, it’s common to fall back on the position that one of us is right and the other is wrong. We both need to understand that this position isn’t helpful and will usually lead to increased defensiveness and greater emotional wounding. Let’s agree to work on adopting the following mindset:

While I may feel totally justified in my position, I need to accept the fact that my partner’s perspective may be different than my own and that s/he may feel totally justified in his/her own position. True, it’s not easy, but we will each work on accepting the reality that we are different people who will perceive and react to events differently at times.”

3) Focus On Understanding Each Other’s Perspective 

This conversation might go something like:

“Rather than making it a habit that we simply defend our own positions whenever we disagree, we will work toward the goal of understanding each other’s perspectives and feelings. Since the person who is upset/hurt has more at stake emotionally, the immediate goal may be to address and understand the emotionally injured partner’s perspective/feelings first, before examining the other person’s perspective.

The goal of understanding one another does not necessarily mean agreeing with each other’s viewpoint; rather, the goal is to make sense of it, understanding the “how and why” of each other’s unique reactions. We will commit to doing our best to embrace the goal of making mutual understanding a regular part of our relationship.”

I encourage couples to have some variation of the above three conversations as a way of preparing for the inevitable relationship misfires that are part of all marriages/relationships (no matter how healthy a marriage or relationship is). The issues addressed in this article are a challenge for many of us (myself  included), and these conversations may need to occur throughout the life of your relationship.

Let’s make effective communication a regular part of your marriage/relationship!

Dr. Rich Nicastro


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