You Can’t Fix What You Don’t See

By: Davida Brown  

Your perception is your reality.  And yes, that means that your reality may not be the true reality.  It took me 30+ years to fully embrace this concept.  As a wife and mother now, this phrase is constantly on repeat in my mind when dealing with little, not so little, and yes those whopper issues that plague my marriage from time-to-time.  Oh how I wish I could just snap my fingers and my husband would get it.  I mean how could he possibly think x, y, and z, when everything, and I do mean everything, points to a, b, c?  Some things can mean only one thing, right?  If only that were so.  The fact is, often times spouses will not only have a different view, but won’t be able to fathom how their spouse reached his or her conclusion or why he or she feels the way they do.  And even more, because their perceptions are so different, neither can readily identify the problem causing the conflict.  So where does that leave us? 

No matter how well-intentioned we are, we can’t fix what we can’t see.  Making the correct diagnosis of the conflict in your marriage is key to moving forward and past the crisis.  Here are some key tips to correctly diagnosing the problem or factors contributing to the problems in your marriage.

  • Be committed to discovering the truth, not just your truth.   This requires that you do your best to approach an issue fresh, removing all barriers.  It doesn’t matter that what your spouse is saying, or doing is completely absurd in your view.  Trust me, your spouse doesn’t see it that way.  So instead of looking at him or her cross-eyed, commit to really listening and trying to understand their view or feelings.  You may even need to take some time thereafter to process the information, and that’s okay.  Have follow-up questions? Ask them.  Your goal as a couple should be to listen to understand each other’s perspective.
  • Have an open mind to change.  By this I mean have a mindset to embrace a new way of thinking.  Be ready to embrace the possibility that your way of thinking – no matter how long you’ve thought that way – may not be best for your marriage and may be the source of the problem.  Be open to possibly embracing your spouse’s way of handling a situation or adopting a new way of thinking foreign to you both. 

 Let me illustrate this with an example.  A couple is constantly arguing about money, and more specifically, the lack thereof for family activities.  The husband is a saver and religiously puts 20% of each paycheck (his and his wife’s) into a savings account earmarked for retirement.  His view is that those funds must not be touched and has been unwilling to depart from that philosophy.  They have two kids and with all the day-to-day expenses, child care, and household obligations, there is little left for fun family activities.  The wife is generally on board with the “saving” philosophy, but believes that a portion of the 20% should be allocated to a discretionary account for family activities, vacations, etc.  Every year they have massive battles – worsening each year--  over this issue.  The wife feels a family vacation is required EVERY year.  She did it as a child, wants the kids to experience it, and believes it is paramount to cementing their familial bond.  The husband sees no value in spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on a trip.  They can have movie night or game night at home to connect without any unnecessary expenditure of funds.  Their retirement – and he’s shooting for retirement at 65 – is way more important.  He won’t entertain touching the saving account or 20% allocation of funds to that account.  While he sees the issue, i.e. lack of funds, he doesn’t see that his way of thinking (20% of income MUST go to the retirement account, no ifs ands or buts) as a contributing factor.  In his mind, the way he allocates the 20% is a necessity.  To fix the problem could only entail figuring out how to stretch the other 80% of income to give his wife what she wants (not needs), and it’s not his fault that she’s been unable to do it.

Focusing on the husband for purposes of this illustration, it’s pretty obvious that his reasoning is flawed.  To resolve this issue, he needs to be open to seeing the flaws so that he can see that his reasoning and failure to deviate therefrom is a key cause of the conflict. Sometimes just putting aside what you and your spouse have historically thought about a situation and exploring other modes can help tremendously in either figuring out the problem and/or its causes.

  • Resist Red Herrings.  Red herrings are common during marital conflict.  Instead of trying to figure out the issue at hand, one or both spouses bring up other things.  Continuing with the example above, the husband during arguments on this issue brings up the fact that he doesn’t like some of the recent purchases his wife has made.  It bugs him that she always has to buy name brand instead of generic. He reasons that maybe if she bought generic-brand items, she’d have more money for vacations.  While this “new” conflict is tangentially related, it’s a red herring and doesn’t directly address the problem at hand, i.e. what’s the best use of that 20% for their family, factoring in the desire to save for retirement and family activities.

We all know that marital conflict is inevitable.  By following these tips, you should be one step closer to diagnosing the issue so together as a team you can resolve it.