Q: Out of all the relationship help skills that I read about (for example: communication skills, being more appreciative, taking time to nurture our marriage), is there anything that you think is especially important but that couples might overlook? ~Jeremy, Seattle WA
A: Thanks for your question, Jeremy! While there are indeed many important marital/relationship skills available to couples, one that unfortunately doesn’t get discussed often is the ability to take perspective. In my marriage/couples counseling practice, I’ve learned first-hand that this skill (however unglamorous it may seem) is an important ingredient in the creation of a healthy marriage/relationship.
The ability to take perspective is vital to every relationship.
Let’s look at some of the ways taking perspective works:
Relationship Help: Nurturing a Big-picture Mindset
The ability to take perspective allows you to “see” the bigger picture in a particular moment (most helpfully, a difficult moment).
Why is this important?
When a marriage/relationship hits an inevitable lull or rough patch, couples can become nearsighted. During that difficult time, you start to see all the marital/relationship problems (or potential problems) clearly–they take center stage and loom large–while the other parts of your relationship (which might include numerous relationship strengths) become blurred and marginalized.
For many couples this can lead to serious problems, since their relationship begins to feel broken and hopeless. (And it doesn’t have to feel that way—keep in mind that in these moments a compounding issue is that the couples are completely ignoring the aspects of their relationship that are working well!)
When you nurture a big-picture mindset, you’re able to experience the trials and tribulations that all couples go through without drowning in them—you can hold onto the positive facets of your relationship while you’re dealing with the stressful events. For instance, couples who take perspective are able to experience frustration and anger toward one another without losing sight of the fact that they still love each other (even when they don’t necessarily like each other in a particular moment).
This larger perspective allows you to be upset with your spouse/partner in the moment while remaining secure about the marriage/relationship.
Another Benefit of Perspective-Taking
The acknowledgment of life’s transitory nature
When you’ve encountered pain in your life, you may have recalled the oft-repeated phrase, “This, too, shall pass.” For many, the mindset that all experiences — even difficult ones — have a beginning and an end provides comfort.
If you and your partner adopt this approach, you’ll be better equipped to weather the stormy periods every relationship experiences, because you’ll hold onto the hope that in time the tides will shift in your favor.
This is a powerful form of perspective-taking. It places all events on a timeline. Have you ever noticed how something can feel so enormous one day yet almost insignificant a few days later? You can use the perspective of “This, too, shall pass” by asking yourself the following question:
How important is this issue to me today? How important will it a month from now? A year from now?
Answering these questions will help you build greater perspective in your relationship. Note that using this kind of perspective should never become an excuse for not working on issues that are important to you and your partner. This isn’t about developing a laissez faire attitude. Rather, it’s to help you place events in a framework that will allow you to work on issues in a level-headed manner.
The Ultimate Perspective-Taking: Seeing Your Spouse’s/Partner’s Viewpoint
Your perspective is one reality and, you may have noticed, your partner has his/her own viewpoint.
At times these viewpoints will be in sync (and your marriage/relationship will feel harmonious), while at other times they will be quite different (which can lead to tension between you and your partner). When differences exist, it’s common to automatically defend your own position and see your partner as somehow in error or unsympathetic. Since your partner is probably feeling the same way about you, this can quickly escalate into a frustrating lose-lose situation. In these moments couples often become deeply entrenched in their conflicting positions and wage a futile battle.
What do you think would happen if you were to temporarily shelve your well-defended viewpoints and attempt to see the world through your partner’s eyes?
A relationship truism is that perspective-taking often leads to greater empathy—it allows you to be able to put yourself in your partner’s shoes. And a flexible and empathic stance fosters emotional connection (emotional intimacy) even when you don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye with one another.
Taking your partner’s perspective (even when you might not agree with him or her) is a surefire way to keep your marriage/relationship strong and healthy. I realize this is easier said than done and, once emotions escalate, nearly impossible. Therefore, a good rule of thumb is to practice taking your partner’s perspective (while s/he practices taking yours), before things get too heated. You’ll avoid many unnecessary fights and will feel closer to each other this way.
Wishing you and your relationship all the best!
Dr. Rich Nicastro