Chad and Sunnie Relationship Strengths: Perspective-Taking
No matter who we are, it is most natural for all of us to see the world from our own point of view. We are ourselves and nobody else, after all. However, in order to truly connect with other people, we need to realize that other people sometimes (and by sometimes I mean always) see things differently than we do. This doesn't make our perspective or their perspective good or bad, just different. For many of us it's extremely difficult to accept that our partner's viewpoint is just as valid and real to them as ours is to us.
Sunnie and Chad certainly do an excellent job of demonstrating this skill, whether it be in good times or bad. It's been a skill that has carried them through the difficulties and helped them to connect more during good times. Let's dive a little deeper into perspective-taking and what that means for us.
Perspective-taking is the ability to see things as another person would see them. It isn’t just putting yourself in another person’s shoes because imagining how you would react in their situation doesn’t acknowledge their unique perspective. Trying to understand how you would respond if you were in their situation is quite different from understanding how they feel in their current situation.
Everyone has their own history and attributes and beliefs about the world. Each of those aspects acts as a filter, changing how we see the world. It influences how we interpret information and events, and how we react and feel in various situations. Understanding enough about how your partner thinks, feels and responds, and to see a situation through their eyes is a powerful skill that can not only make communicating (both sharing and understanding) easier, it can also trigger a sense of camaraderie and closeness. As humans, we are wired to be drawn to people who “get” us. Simply being understood makes us feel safe and connected. We don’t even have to agree with each other, just understand how our partner sees the world.
Think of something that is causing your partner grief. Think about how you would respond in your partner’s place. It doesn't have to be something about you that's causing them grief. Just something that is uncomfortable, annoying, or distressing to them. Now do some perspective-taking and try to understand how your partner is thinking about what is happening and how they are feeling. If you’re stumped, it’s okay to ask. In fact, asking is great! It helps them to see that you're really trying to understand it from their point of view.
It can help if you write down your initial attempts at perspective-taking. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but writing down your thoughts will let you cross out and rearrange and think more critically and kindly. Remember this isn’t about judging or supporting or agreeing, it’s just about understanding. Frankly, for this exercise, it really doesn't matter if they are right or wrong about how they view the world. All that matters is that you can understand how they see it.
Think of something your partner really enjoys. Try to get inside their experience when they are enjoying it. What about this is fun to them? How are they engaging (physically, mentally, emotionally) with the experience? How do they feel before, during, and after? What brings them back again and again?
Think of a time when your partner said or did something that hurt your feelings. Practice calming yourself down first, then go ahead and write about your own perspective. Get your responses and arguments down on paper. Now turn your thoughts to your partner’s experience. Go ahead and write what you think they were thinking and feeling. Avoid portraying them in the worst possible light, just cross that out and write it again as they would describe it. No one perspective is right, you aren’t searching for the “truth”, you are trying to understand their experience. Calm yourself down as often as you need to in order to be open to that understanding. Don’t try to solve anything. Don’t try to decide anything. Just understand.
Then next time a stranger is rude to you, see if you can try to understand why someone would behave that way. You can even make up a plausible scenario that would lead to them acting in the way they did. It doesn't have to be accurate, just something that makes enough sense to help you see things from other perspectives.
Find a type of comedy you’ve never really found to be funny. Immerse yourself in it for a while and see if you can understand why someone would enjoy it. It doesn’t have to become your favorite, but try and see how others experience it. If you want, try it out for yourself.
Think of someone in your life whose perspective is limited in some way. Maybe you know someone who is blind or has a learning disability, maybe you know a young child without a lot of experience or an elderly person who hasn’t been able to master new technologies. Take some time to try and see the world through the eyes of that person. How would ordinary things feel different with that limitation?
Find a book or documentary that describes the experience of someone with a mental disorder (not fiction, which is often inaccurate and needlessly scary). As you read or watch, really try to understand how that person experiences the world.