Marriage Help

Rear and Side View Mirrors

During conflict with anyone, but especially a loved one, your perspective becomes narrow, rigid, and resistant to any feedback that mitigates the negative assumptions you are currently making. Worse, you have no idea of how you seem to your partner. In short, you suffer severe blind spots that are the psychological equivalent to driving down the highway without rear or side view mirrors.

You know well how your partner looks and sounds when he or she is resentful or angry. You could write a book about it, or at least a pamphlet or blog post.

But you never think, at least not at the time, about how you look and sound when you notice that your partner is resentful or angry. You don't think of how likely is it that your partner perceives you at that moment to be rejecting, condescending, manipulative, selfish, controlling, or not giving a damn about he or she feels.

Of course your partner has blind spots, too; his or her reactions to you are often  inaccurate. But even if his or her reactions to you were entirely incorrect, what would be most likely to change them for the better - defensiveness and resentment, or genuine concern about the hurt causing his or her reaction?

Do You Want to Make It Better or Worse?

If you want to enlarge your blind spots and ensure relationship crashes, the best way to go about it is to assume - or even consider - that your anger, resentment, or other negative reactions to your partner are "justified" or "appropriate." This will only make your perspective narrower, more rigid, and, well, blinder.

If you want to get off the treadmill of conflict with people you love, the first thing to do is accept that, like everyone else on earth, you suffer significant blind spots about your demeanor and behavior in emotional interactions. Only a tiny proportion of brain cells engage in objectively analyzing your own demeanor and behavior under the best of circumstances, and that part receives practically no blood flow or synaptic activation during emotional arousal. Our brains are simply not wired for accurate self-evaluation during emotional arousal. What's more, negative arousal keeps us hyper-focused on a perceived threat and impervious to information that might mitigate the threat. That is how the people you love most in the world can seem like saber tooth tigers when you are angry or resentful, with all your thought processes dedicated to magnifying how bad he or she is at that moment.

Adjusting the Mirrors

If you are tired of relationship crashes, the best strategy for reducing your blind spots is to use the reactions of your partner as a system of rear and side view mirrors.

If you believe that your partner is:

  • Attacking you, ask yourself if you are devaluing him or her, at least in your head
  • Being selfish, ask yourself if you are coming off selfishly
  • Superior, condescending, or disrespectful, ask yourself if you are being respectful and open to his or her perspective
  • Devoid of compassion and caring, ask yourself if you are compassionate at that moment.

Adjusting for your blind spots in emotional interactions has to be intentional, just as you have to intentionally adjust the rear and side view mirrors of your car. If you drive on automatic pilot on the road or in your relationships, your blind spots will lead you to disaster. Putting a little care and effort in your blind spot adjustments will get you where you want to go.