Editor's Note: The views, information, or opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author. Readers should consider each unique situation. This content is not meant to be a substitute for individual, professional advice.
Q: My spouse has a really hard time seeing things from my perspective, which is something I regularly try to do for her. She insists that we do things her way, frequently tells me “you don’t know what you’re talking about” when I share my opinion, and tells me that I’m choosing to be offended when I tell her that her behavior hurts me. I don’t feel like an equal partner; I feel dictated to. How can I reach her?
A: I’m so glad you asked this question. Both husbands and wives, women and men, can fall into the trap of confirmation bias, or seeing all evidence as confirming their own views and disregarding evidence to the contrary.
The fact is, while most of us believe that we don’t have all the answers and can learn from others, when the rubber meets the road, we often rely on our own perspective and conclusions. We tend to think that our way is the right way.
We need look no further than our roads and highways to see this in action. Anyone driving faster than me is a maniac. Anyone driving slower than me is a nuisance. Why can’t everyone just drive the way I’m driving? Yet tomorrow, I may be someone else’s maniac as I rush to get to the office on time. Or I may be someone else’s nuisance as I zone out to talk radio and go 10 under the speed limit. Yet I remain firm in my belief that my way of driving is the right way.
This tendency is even more pronounced in what I call “thinker” personality types. Most people have one or two dominant personality types. Healers are compassionate, comforting, emotionally intelligent, and nonjudgmental. They are also more likely to get their feelings hurt, to trust when they shouldn’t, and to hold grudges after forgiving time and again. Dreamers are fun-loving, adventure-seeking, outside-of-the-box thinkers who also tend to struggle with follow-through and focus. Closers are reliable, competitive, and do what they say they’re going to do, but they also tend to be steamrollers who can be blunt and impatient. Thinkers posses high rational intelligence, study things out and think things through, and come up with airtight plans. They also struggle with “analysis paralysis,” or not acting until they can do something perfectly, as well as acknowledging the perspective of others as valid.
In my opinion, utilizing our strengths and overcoming our weaknesses, related to these personality types, is part of our quest in mortality and a divine reason for marriage and family relationships. Practicing humility allows us to learn and benefit from one another. A Closer can learn compassion from a Healer, while the Healer learns confidence from a Closer, for example. Dreamers can learn how to slow down and consider the variables from a Thinker, while a Thinker can learn how to stop stressing and enjoy life from a Dreamer. And so on.
Thoroughly understanding that all people have strengths and weaknesses according to their innate personality type and that no one type is superior overall to another may help your spouse to recognize that you are in her life to help her grow, but only if she’s open to it, and vice versa. Not only that but accepting influence from your spouse (as John Gottman calls it) is the most logical, rational way to have success in marriage.
What I like to tell Thinkers, to help them get on board with this concept, is to imagine themselves as generals on a battlefield. There’s a reason they’re a general. They’re good at observing the lay of the land and the movements of the enemy, making mental connections other people don’t see, and forming strategies for success. They’re logical and rational.
Now, a scout comes down from the hillside saying, “General, I’ve seen something from up there that I don’t think you can see from here.” The general would be a fool to disregard the other perspective, saying, “No, you’re wrong, and I can see just fine from here.” It’s not a knock on the general, nor is it a weakness, to consider other viewpoints and perspectives, learn from them, and utilize them. Quite the contrary, it is a tactical strength to not arrogantly rely on their own observations and conclusions. There is a much higher chance of victory by relying on advisors as much as their own strategy.
If that’s the case with generals, how much more so in marriage, when no one holds rank over the other? How much more so when God Himself has clarified that you are to be “equal partners?” (see The Family: A Proclamation to the World).
As for your spouse telling you that you’re choosing to be offended, this is a misapplication of a true principle. We do choose to be offended (or at least to stay offended). We choose to hold grudges. Emotional pain, however, is not a choice. Feeling sad, or hurt, or isolated when a partner doesn’t treat us as an equal is understandable.
I think your spouse may be confusing intention and result. They don’t intend to hurt you. They’re not trying to insult you. So if you feel hurt or insulted, they assume it’s a choice on your part. And while your own insecurities may come into play when it comes to interpreting or being hurt by their behavior, how the other person speaks to or acts towards you is something for which they are accountable, not just the intent. To help them see what they’re doing, I use my hockey analogy.
Imagine that you’re playing ice hockey. You and your teammate are rushing towards the puck at the same time. You accidentally collide into your teammate, sending them hard into the glass and onto the ice. You would never skate up to them and say, “I didn’t mean to hurt you, so if you’re hurt it’s because you're choosing to be.” Accident or not, any decent person would skate up and say, “I’m so sorry, are you alright?” You’d help your teammate up, skate more carefully around them, and after the game, you would form a plan together to keep from that type of pain happening again, with both looking at what they can do differently.
So what do you do from here? If your spouse is willing, share this article and discuss it together. Otherwise, share the concepts with her. Pray that the Lord will soften her heart to be open to the conversation. Ask what you can do to better meet her needs to balance what you’re asking her to do. If you need more support, I and others are here for you.
God bless you. I hope this helps.
JONATHAN’S RECOMMENDED READINGS ON THIS SUBJECT
“Family Communication” by Elder Marvin J. Ashton
“Unrighteous Dominion” by Elder H. Burke Peterson.
“And Nothing Shall Offend Them” by Elder David A. Bednar