You may think that it is positive to try to see things from your partner’s perspective. The danger comes if you think that you know what your partner is thinking or how they are feeling. I have had clients who are so convinced that they know their partner better than their partner knows themselves. They will argue with their partner about what their partner thinks or how they feel.
It is helpful to remember that we are not seeing things as they are; we are seeing things as we are. No matter how hard we try to imagine our partner reactions, thoughts or feeling, we are still looking through our own lens. Changing perspective can be difficult; putting yourself in your partner's shoes may not be as easy as you think.
I have also witness in couples counseling clients who refuse to accept that their partner thinks or feels a certain way, because they would never feel or think that way. Their partner’s pleadings, “How would you feel if I did that to you.” fall on deaf ears. The response, “It wouldn’t bother me.” The assumption is that their partner should respond the same way they would respond. Jerry Belson accurately penned, “Never assume, because when you ASSUME, you make an ASS of U and ME.”
To avoid the assumption trap, you can begin by practicing curiosity. Don’t immediately discard your partner’s view or label it wrong. You can choose to be compassionate toward yourself and toward your partner. Can you take a step back and be open to influence from your partner? To hear their perspective from them, make your best effort to understand and validate their position? Always remembering that validation does not necessarily mean agreement. You can hear your partner and accept their thoughts, opinions and feelings without agreeing with them. Recognize that it is okay for the two of you to have different opinions. You do not have to feel threatened if they do not agree with you, or do not think or feel the same way you do.
Sometimes it is difficult to listen to what your partner has to say because you may feel criticized. It is helpful to look for the request or the unmet need under the criticism. If your partner says something like, “Why can’t you come home from work earlier.” Instead of launching into your defense, it helps to pause and hear the request, “please spend more time with me.” Or the unmet need, “I need to feel important and you spending time with me helps me feel important.” Focusing on the request or need may soften your response.
A wonderful relationship skill is the ability to hear from your partner their perspective, do your best to look through their lens and then rethink your position while remembering their position and make a decision that considers the needs of both.
The most important part of trying to see things from your partner’s perspective is to clarify your assumptions with them. Ask them and listen to accept, learn and validate.