In each and every relationship there are two perceptions of reality: yours, and your partner’s.
You often hang on to your perception of reality, of how things “should be”, and don’t see how, by doing so, you harm the relationship. Becoming aware of your perception of reality and the factors which influence it enables you to become flexible, come towards your partner and develop a constructive, satisfying intimacy.
The case of Gail and Henry illustrates such a process.
Gail and Henry
Gail has been waiting for Henry to return home for the past two hours.
Suddenly the phone rings. She grabs it and says, “Hello?” in a loud, tense voice. “I’m at the office”, says Henry, “I got stuck at work. I’ll be home in another hour at the most. I just wanted to tell you so you wouldn’t worry”.
“But why didn’t you call earlier?” she snaps at him, “you know that I’m waiting”.
“I was in a meeting”, he replies.
Both of them put down the phone, mad at each other.
Your perception of reality affects your thoughts, emotions, reactions and behaviors
Gail’s perception of reality is that Henry should have returned home and be with her. She thinks it’s wrong that he didn’t call her earlier. She reacts with anger. She isn’t aware how it triggers and affects a whole spectrum of components:
Many thoughts may be going uncontrollably through Gail’s mind:
* Does Henry still love her?
* Is his work really more important to him than she?
* Could it be that he wasn’t in a meeting as he said?
* Could it be that he’s found someone else?
* Could he be angry with her for something she did?
* Are there things she should be doing otherwise?
* Could it be that the time has come for her to begin thinking more about herself instead of worrying and waiting for him every evening?
Thoughts like these often go through your head so quickly, that unless you consciously pay attention, you can’t follow them.
Gail is liable to interpret Henry’s delay in various ways:
* Maybe he prefers to be at the office instead of being with her.
* Maybe he doesn’t appreciate her enough.
* Maybe he’s bored with her.
* Maybe he’s going through a personal crisis that’s distancing him from her.
* Maybe he’s found someone else.
The past experiences and the interpretations crossing Gail’s mind regarding Henry’s delay automatically dictate the emotions that she may feel, such as:
Gail may be angry at Henry and disappointed that he’s late because she had expectations:
* Maybe she anticipated a pleasant evening; that they would have a nice dinner together; that they would make love.
* Maybe she expected attention, pampering and touch.
* Maybe she wanted to pamper him this evening. Wanted… anticipated… and was disappointed…
One or more fears might arise in Gail, related to some of her past experiences (with her parents, Henry and / or previous partners):
* Fear of abandonment
* Fear of unfaithfulness
* Fear of rejection; losing love
* Fear of failure
* Fear of being alone
* Fear of feeling guilty
* Fear of shame
Reactions and behaviors
The thoughts, interpretations, emotions, expectations and fears that control Gail, cause her angry reaction on the phone, without being aware of it. She can also “recall” situations from the past that occurred with Henry, with previous partners or with her parents:
* Henry’s delay may be “reminding” her, at an unconscious level, of how her father never showed her any consideration.
* She may feel that her partners were always too busy with work at her expense.
* She may have been abandonment or cheated in the past, and Henry’s behavior is rubbing salt into her wound.
These past experiences, together with all other components, will shape Gail’s behavior towards Henry when he gets home:
* She might be remote and cold.
* She might not sit down to eat with him.
* She might withhold warmth, love and sex.
Whichever way Gail decides to behave, she’ll be driven by her own perception of reality.
Let’s see now how the same factors outlined above affect Henry’s perception of reality
Henry’s perception of reality is that it’s okay to call Gail and tell her he’ll be late. He behaves according to his perception of reality, which was shaped through his life. Like Gail, he isn’t aware how his perception of reality triggers and affects a whole spectrum of components in him too:
Many thoughts may be going through Henry’s mind when he hears Gail’s reaction on the phone:
* What’s making her so angry?
* Doesn’t she understand how busy he is?
* Doesn’t she respect his work?
* Doesn’t she appreciate the fact that he brings home a salary?
* What is she afraid of? She knows that he’s not cheating on her.
* What’s the problem, anyway? Even if she prepared dinner, they can eat later. That’s why they bought a microwave for, so they could reheat food.
* Why does she always worry so much?
* How is it that partners always get mad at him?
Henry is liable to interpret Gail’s reaction as meaning:
* She doesn’t appreciate his dedication to his work.
* She thinks only of herself and what’s good for her.
* She doesn’t love him the way she once did. She used to be more considerate of him.
These thoughts and interpretations might arouse emotions, such as:
* Suffocation; need for space
Henry might be angry at Gail since he, like her, also had expectations:
* Maybe he expected that when he got home, they would have a pleasant evening and a nice dinner together.
* Maybe he expected her to pamper him, give him attention, sex.
* Maybe he expected to pamper her this evening, and wanted… anticipated… and was disappointed that he had to stay late at work, and Gail didn’t even understand, she just got mad.
Henry’s expectations might cause frustration and bitterness, maybe even an impulsive decision: from now on he’d better not plan ahead of time and not promise Gail anything before finishing work. He would get home once he got there.
One or more fears which are related to past experiences (with his parents, with Gail and/or with previous partners) may arouse in him:
* Fear of abandonment
* Fear of rejection, losing love
* Fear of failure of the relationship
* Fear of feeling guilty
* Fear of shame
Reactions and behaviors
All these components: thoughts, interpretations, emotions, expectations, fears and needs that Henry isn’t aware of, impact the way he reacts towards Gail. They can also “remind” him of situations from the past that occurred with her, with previous partners or with his parents:
* He may feel that Gail (or previous partners) always got mad at him or didn’t show him any consideration when he had to work late.
* He may have experienced rejection by other women in the past, and Gail’s reaction makes him feel misunderstood and unloved again.
* Gail’s anger may “remind” him, without his being aware of it, of his father or his mother, who would get angry at him when he behaved in ways they didn’t like.
* He may have learned from his experience with Gail and/or previous partners that when they get angry at him they penalize him, maybe by becoming remote or by withholding sex.
Past experiences, combined with all the other components, shape Henry’s reaction: rather than returning home, talking with Gail and trying to “make peace”, he might stay at work even longer, or call a friend and go out for a drink. In either case, his behavior might be driven by:
* Fear of abandonment, rejection or loss of love – wishing not to face Gail’s anger.
* A need for space, afraid that Gail will “suffocate” him with her demands for explanations.
Whichever way Henry chooses to postpone coming home, his behavior will further harm their relationship.
Becoming aware of your perception of reality facilitates the way to a successful intimate relationship
As the case of Gail and Henry illustrates, two perceptions of reality are present in every relationship: yours, and your partner’s. As long as you are not aware of the effect they have on your thoughts, feelings, attitudes, reactions and behaviors you will continue sabotaging your relationship.
Becoming aware of your perception of reality is a must if you wish to de-activate the power it exerts over you and become able to interact with your partner in ways vital for a successful intimacy.
Doron Gil, Ph.D., is an expert on Self-Awareness and Relationships with a 30 year experience as a university teacher, workshop leader, counsellor and consultant. He is the author of more than 100 articles on the subject and of “The Self-Awareness Guide to a Successful Intimate Relationship: Understanding Why You Fail in Your Relationships Over and Over Again and Learning How to Stop it!”. Available as eBook and paperback: http://www.amazon.com/Self-Awareness-Guide-Successful-Intimate-Relationship/dp/143925141X/
More on Dr. Gil, his articles and book: http://self-awareness-and-relationships.blogspot.com
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