You Are Both 100% Right!
In Katherine Anne Porter’s short story “Rope,” a husband returns from the market with a basket of groceries. His wife is angry because he forgot the coffee she requested and instead, impulsively bought 24 yards of rope.
Over the next seven pages, as one accusation leads to another, they reignite long ago arguments with the glowing embers of never-forgotten anger. Their shouting disintegrates into divorce – all because he forgot the coffee she wanted and bought a rope he didn’t need. The irony and the sadness is that, from each of their perspectives, they are 100% right.
What makes “Rope” compelling is its hilarious characterization of so many fights caused simply by poor communication. An everyday conversation too easily turns into a scathing battle because neither party really hears or listens to the other. Both people are sure their points are correct.
As a marriage and family therapist, I hear these stories daily. For instance, at the end of their first session, after Sally and Dan had discussed their communication problems, I ask if they want to schedule another appointment. There is a moment of silence as Dan turns to Sally who says nothing. Dan then says, “Let us talk about this later, and we’ll get back to you.”
Sally explodes, “You’re just looking for a way out!” Dan looks shell-shocked.
As we sort this out, it becomes apparent that both were attempting to be considerate of the other. Unfortunately, their good intentions were not clearly communicated. Dan assumed Sally’s silence to my question meant she was unsure about coming again. He definitely wanted to, but out of respect for her hesitation, he did not want to put her on the spot by asking her in front of me.
Sally thought the session went well and assumed Dan would be willing to return. But, she didn’t want to influence his response, so she didn’t speak up first. When she heard his comment about getting back to me later, she was furious; she assumed that meant he was backing out.
Dan’s and Sally’s own silence was motivated by what they assumed would please the other. So, understandably, they each felt they had behaved 100% correctly, yet each felt 100% wronged.
Assumptions, without checking them out, can interfere with good intentions and genuine caring. Too often, couples forget they are on the same team, that they have the same agenda of caring about the other. When they feel attacked, they instinctively counter-attack. They are out to defeat the other rather than assume they have different ideas about getting to the same goal.
If you start with the assumption you are on the same team, you both desire the best outcome for whatever the issue, then you know you are both 100% right – within your own perspective. So you need to listen carefully, clarify confusions, correct assumptions in order to hear how your partner got to a position so very different from yours. Then, as teammates, you seek a mutually satisfying resolution.
Here are some suggestions for getting through the confusion and coming out on the other end – with both of you feeling 100% good about the way you handled the conflict.
- Sit side by side, like a team, when having an “argument.” Put your problem in a chair on the other side of the room. Then, you two can talk together about how to solve the problem.
- Set a time limit of 30-60 minutes. It takes a lot of energy to stay focused and to truly listen and respond. If you need longer, set another time to revisit the issue.
- Preface each comment with, “From my perspective,” or “As I see it,” or
“From inside my shoes,” or any other similarly respectful phrase.
- End your point by asking, “What is your perspective?” or “How do you see the situation?” This implies you are interested not only in making your point, but also in hearing what your partner has to say.
- After you both have expressed your points, repeat back what you think the other has said, making sure you have it correct. While you may still have different ideas about the issue, at least you both will feel heard.
- If this last is done well, and you understand the other’s position, then spell out where you differ. This allows each to feel understood and be clear about your differences. Unless this happens, there is no chance for a mutually agreeable resolution.
- Make sure each of you ends the discussion by saying, “Now that I have clarified what you were saying, I now understand that from your perspective you were 100%.
- If you are both say this, your team will win.
Be sure to read “Rope.”
If you have questions or comments or want more information, contact me at:
Dr. Karen Gail Lewis
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