Relativity in relationships

I often explain to couples who are stuck in conflict - continuously trying to convince the other of their perspectives - that perspectives are subjective. I actively challenge the notion of objective reality in my sessions.

I frequently use the example of describing a house from a rigid and objective stance. It will look something like this: person A is placed in the front of the house. Person B at the back of the house. They both received the instruction to describe what they see (with the rigid belief in objective reality that what they see IS the house). So person A starts describing that he sees a garage door, two windows and a front door. Person B reacts that this is not accurate as there is three windows and a door but no garage door. Person A argues that this is not right and explains again what he sees. And so the conversation continues. This can easily escalate into frustration and further escalate into aggression. The only solution is flexibility and a willingness to join the other in what he is seeing. Where he is looking from.

What is real is something that is agreed apon by a very specific group of people. This shared reality is what we perceive and live by asif it is objective reality. An objective truth. We often lose sight of the fact that it actually still remains subjective. When we talk about what we experience in the world, how we interact and relate and how we make sense of all of this it remains subjective and relative to the context (cultural, socio-political, family etc) that you find yourself in.

We co-create reality.

This whole idea stands out even clearer for me now that I live and work in Belgium. A lot of my work is with expats - people coming from all over the world - many of them have also lived in a couple of different countries. Listening to their experiences it is so clear how what is normal in one context can be abnormal in another. How the same behaviour in one context is perceived as rude while in another it is expected and seen as a sign of respect. This list can go on and on.

If you really stand still and look at all the detail of these differences in perspective and reality it is something short of a miracle that relationships work. The magnitude of the challenge of having fulfilling interpersonal relationships becomes clear.

Yet, no matter who you are or where you come from we have a shared need for connection. Research has shown how we yearn for connection and the universality of it.

Perhaps the first step is to approach your interpersonal relationships in all the various contexts that you function in, with great flexibility - especially when it comes to your idea of what is objective, what is fact and what is real. And perhaps you’ll enjoy the byproduct - increased empathy.

Larissa ErnstComment