Giovanni is arguing with shadows of his past, though he falsely believes the person standing before him, his wife Carrie, is the real cause of his anger. And as Carrie takes the bait by defending her stance and verbally swinging back at each of her husband’s spoken jabs, Giovanni’s perception of Carrie as “the problem” becomes solidified.
Relationship Help for Couples: Who Are You Really in Conflict With?
Most of us function under the following assumption: When our partner/spouse does something that stirs a strong emotion or reaction in us (for instance: anger, annoyance, humiliation), we believe that it is our partner who caused our reaction. The reasons for our reactions are frequently seen as lying outside of us. When this occurs, we become victims to the whims and moods of others—in essence, we give our power away.
In the argument that Giovanni was having with his wife, he experienced Carrie as inconsiderate and even accused her of being “selfish.” He’s made these accusations before. But truth be told, Giovanni secretly feels these very things about himself—but he despises the image of himself as self-absorbed to such a degree that he denies the possibility that he can be selfish at times. So rather than own his feelings, he projects these onto his wife.
Why would Giovanni project feelings onto his wife, thereby distorting his view of her? (And why would any of us do the same thing with our own partners?)
Projection is an unconscious (automatic) defense mechanism that allows us to deny the traits/feelings that we hate about ourselves and see these very traits in others. So by seeing and accusing Carrie of selfishness, Giovanni has set into motion an emotional shell game where he takes the feelings he has trouble accepting about himself and shifts those feelings onto others.
Whenever projection is at work, we fail to look at ourselves because we become the victim of another—we helplessly react because of something someone else is doing to us (in this example, Giovanni felt he had no other choice but to become angry because of his wife’s selfishness).
In essence, Giovanni was arguing with himself or rather, with the part of himself he has difficulty accepting (Giovanni’s mother used to tease him about being overly demanding whenever he didn’t get his way. He hated when she did this and hated the truth behind her insensitive accusations).
Relationship/Marriage Help Action Step:
Each of our emotional reactions (especially strong reactions) offers us an opportunity for self-reflection and growth. The challenge is to nurture a self-reflective mode of experience (observing your experience) rather than an emotionally reactive one (being engulfed in your reactions).
Once you are able to observe your emotional reaction (about your partner), it will be important to ask yourself the following:
- Is it possible that the way I’m reacting to/viewing my partner in this moment is how I really feel about myself?
This question forces you to take the potentially projected experience (the way you are seeing or feeling about your partner in a particular moment) and bring it back to its original source (you) for further examination. This, of course, is easier said than done, but with practice, the payoff for your marriage/relationship is significant.