Two Truths of Relationships
by David A. Yeats LCSW
In any relationship, there will be conflict. And that is because there are two unique people, with two unique life histories, sets of experiences, two family "cultures," and two unique sets of emotions, associations, and triggers.
Yet most of us act as though there is only one truth, and, gol’ darn it, I’m going to argue for it, and my partner has to see it my way! That’s a great prescription for a long running feud, hurt feelings, and bad times.
We are never going to see things the same way, and we shouldn’t. If you are looking at the front of an elephant, and I am looking at the back of an elephant, we are both seeing the elephant, but no matter how persuasive, we will never see exactly the same thing. Yet we will argue that our view of the elephant is THE view of the elephant.
There are two truths, always, in a relationship—and that is part of the beauty and richness that relationships can offer. The goal can never be to arrive at one truth we both agree to, but rather, to hear and honor both your truth and my truth, and out of that hearing and understanding of each other’s point of view, to strive to reach a Win-Win—where we both can say we are satisfied enough with our agreement about how to move ahead.
We may agree politically or philosophically, and we can share similar values. Part of our attraction to our partner has to do with the ways we see the world similarly.
The issue comes up when our needs are in conflict, and we want a certain outcome or result. Then we see that what I want is not at all what my partner wants.
Traditionally, the partner who has been perceived to be the most “expert,” or the most competent, or confident, or pushy, or controlling—or the person who has been acting in the relationship as the designated leader person—will make the call. But this default decision-making dynamic guarantees unequal, non-mutual, and win-lose outcomes, and grist for present and future resentments and feuds.
Relationships function in their most healthy way when both partners feel a mutuality, a sense of collaboration, and work together as partners and colleagues as a team. The greater the power imbalance or discrepancy, the less true intimacy will result.
The definition of true emotional intimacy is this: two people who are willing to say what’s true to each other, and to hear what’s true from each other, and then work together to honor both truths. That's true intimacy, and it is also true equality.
The most joyful relationships are those where two people are committed to work together around their common life concerns, around their individual needs, and around the life they are creating together.
The joy of loving, growing, and creating something better and more—if that can be the focus—is far more rewarding, of course, than two people arguing about who is right, or two people who are interacting from unequal positions for their own agenda.
May you have, create, and delight in the former!