Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406 – firstname.lastname@example.org
Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page
Seeing things in black and white can be very useful at times. If you’re trying to make a significant decision, and to do it quickly, then the ability to see things clearly – to “cut through the crap” – can be invaluable. In a crisis, quick and decisive action may be necessary and this sort of black and white thinking can be essential.
But when it comes to our personal relationships, things are not generally so clear-cut. You and your partner will see things differently, maybe very differently, and if you try to “cut through the crap”, you are making a judgment about what is “crap” – a judgment that your partner may not agree with. You may see things as unimportant when to them, they are extremely important.
If you both see things clearly – but differently – you can become very stuck, knowing that your interpretation of events is correct, knowing that your partner’s interpretation is wrong. I remember working with a couple who were in just such a situation.
The man had children from a previous relationship and his relationship with his ex was difficult. She was very manipulative, sometimes refusing to allow him access to the children, and he was dealing with this by appeasing her, doing favours, being very flexible about childcare. We was trying to keep her sweet to ensure that he maintained regular contact with his children.
The woman had no children, but her two previous relationships had been emotionally abusive, and both those partners had cheated on her – one with his ex wife. She, therefore, was fearful of the same thing happening again and saw her new partner’s ex as a threat – especially as he always seemed to be doing her favours – to go running when she called. Clearly he still had feelings for her; clearly he would go back to her given half a chance; clearly he wasn’t really committed to the new relationship.
The man saw the woman’s fears and suspicions as hostility towards his ex, anger towards himself, a desire to control him. He felt that she lacked understanding and sympathy towards him – he was, after all, only trying to maintain contact with his children. Clearly she was being selfish; clearly she wanted him all to herself; clearly she didn’t care about his children.
Five years into the relationship, this was how the couple still saw each other, at least some of the time. They had dealt with the issues by ignoring them and getting on with their lives but when things got difficult their feelings resurfaced – the woman doubting that the man loved her – the man seeing the woman as selfish and controlling.
Both of the couple saw things clearly. It was obvious what was going on for their partner. It was black and white. But of course it wasn’t; it was grey. At the start of the relationship, they both had fears, huge fears, about what might happen, and they both acted in ways to reduce their fears as far as they could. But they were both so busy thinking about their own emotions and trying to deal with them that they weren’t able to look at things from their partner’s point of view. They never really sat down and listened to their partner, they never gave each other a chance to understand, and so they weren’t able to work out solutions that suited them both.
It is inevitable that you and your partner will see things differently but it also possible for you both to put yourself in your partner’s shoes and see things from their point of view. Being able to see things in grey is an important step towards understanding, negotiation and compromise. One shade of grey may be all you need…the other 49 are optional!