As a therapist I sit in the same chair, facing the same side of the office 5 days a week. I look at the same painting, the same clock, the same lamp and the same couch multiple hours each day. I’ll be honest, sometimes the view gets a little old. The only thing that changes is the faces looking back at me; faces that see a completely different side of my office. If you asked my clients what they see, they would inevitably point out a bookcase, a desk, a painting and a chair. The exact same room, but two totally different viewpoints.
This is one of the toughest, but most helpful topics covered in couples counseling; two different people viewing the same shared experience from two totally different perspectives. Taking your partner’s side requires each individual to postpone their own point of view and empathically look at their partner’s world from his or her perspective. A lot of the time we see our own viewpoint as Truth and our partner’s viewpoint as Wrong. It’s helpful to remember that two opposing views are neither right nor wrong, they can coexist just like two sides of one room. Here are a few tips that will help you improve at taking your spouse’s side. First, work at slowing down responses. Instead of jumping right into a response when your spouse says something disagreeable, try asking questions that will deepen your understanding of what your partner is feeling or experiencing. This eliminates potential misunderstandings or miscommunication. Try questions like “How is this situation affecting you?”, “I think I am beginning to understand you, could you say more?”, “Does this remind you of something else from your past?” Another key is to listen to emotion. If you have a hard time taking your partner’s side, try listening to their emotional experience. Emotional experience is subjective, therefore two people can both feel very differently about a situation and neither partner is right nor wrong. Once you identify what they are feeling, think about what it’s like when you feel a similar emotion. This helps slow down critical thinking and opens the mind to empathy. We are able to validate our spouses experience and offer compassion for what they are going through.
Taking your partner’s side doesn’t mean you have to agree or adhere to their perspective, but it does demand we get out of our own perceptions, walk around to the other side of the room and see it from their side. When we are able to take our spouse’s side we change the climate of the relationship; criticism is replaced with compassion, misunderstanding is replaced with intimacy, and the relationship becomes a safe place where the individuals are valued over perspective.