Here I am going to dig a little deeper into the causes of disagreements and arguments in relationships. Why do couples argue so much? You would think that since you willingly started your relationship that you must have agreed on most issues and even in the areas where you initially did not you thought that as reasonable people you would be able to work things out. Well, after months and years of being in a close relationship not only did the disagreements not get better, they got worse.
We do not see things as they are.
We see things as we are.
Jean Piaget, the French child development psychologist, conducted a revealing experiment. He gave a group of children a wooden block, which was painted red on one side and green on the other. After examining the block he would show them the green side and ask them what color he was seeing. Most children younger than five years old answered “green”. They were incapable of recognizing that the person on the other side could see something different than they did. Older children gave the correct answer. They understood that while they were seeing the green side of the wooden block, the researcher on the other side saw red. These children demonstrated that they had developed a sense of perspective, the ability to appreciate the situation from another point of view.
How often in your relationship have you behaved as if you were younger then five? How often do you think that your point of view is reality itself and if your partner does not see the situation or event the same way you do, he/she is plain “wrong”. That is called ontological arrogance, thinking that what you think is real is real for everyone else as well, that you are right while everyone else who does not agree with you is wrong. When our daughter, Diana, was five years old, she would say that she didn’t like mushrooms because they were yucky. In fact, the opposite was true. Diana called mushrooms “yucky” because she did not like them. She thought that anyone who liked mushrooms had no taste: a typical case of ontological arrogance. Ontology is the branch of philosophy that studies the nature of reality. Ontological arrogance is the belief that your perspective is privileged, that your way is the only way to interpret the situation. If you see green everyone else must see green also, otherwise they don’t know what they are talking about. While ontological arrogance is cute and endearing in children, it is much less charming in adults – yet it seems to be prevalent in adults. It may become quite devastating for a relationship if your ontological arrogance adopts the behavioral attitude of “it’s my way, or the highway”.
In charged situations most of us assume that we see things as they are; it is not so. We actually see thing as they appear to us. Check it out for yourself. When was the last time that you met an “idiot” who thinks exactly like you do? Do you think that people who disagree with you are idiots, or you call them idiots because they disagree with you? (Instead of “idiot”, you may substitute the epithet which you usually use on your partner.)
The opposite of arrogance is humility. Humility comes from the Latin word humus, meaning ground. Being a humble person, a person with ontological humility, means that you realize that you do not have a special claim on reality or truth, it means that you are well grounded in reality. Remember, the first step to transforming any situation is being in a profound relationship with what is so. You would understand that other people’s and your partner’s perspective are just as valid as yours and that they deserve respect and consideration. Ontological humility makes sense on an intellectual level, but it is not our natural attitude. It requires, at the minimum the cognitive development of a six-year-old.
If we are to stop arguing, disagreeing about everything, quarreling, screaming at each other, etc., and as a result feel not understood, deserted, resentful, angry, aloof, disappointed, not loved or respected, we must stop behaving as five-year-olds. We must make an effort to be aware of our own perspective and point of view, allow others to have their own, and attempt to step into their shoes and see their perspective on the world. Only then would we be able to start to understand why they think what they do and why they do what they do. This does not mean that you have to be a psychologist and understand every “how” and “why” the other person thinks; respecting another’s point of view would be sufficient. Also, by practicing ontological humility it does not mean that you are giving up your own perspective. It is quite humble to say that mushrooms are yucky as long as you add “for me”. You may be humble and still assert yourself, your views are completely valid, as long as you do not obliterate and invalidate or disregard your partner’s point of view. This is why I had a whole chapter on agreeing with your partner and why I refer to it in The Relationship Saver.
During our lives we all have very unique experiences on the basis of which we form our world-view, our mental model of the world. Your mental model is your own particular set of deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, beliefs, and values. From this model stem all the interpretations and meanings we give to our experiences. Meanings and interpretations, as I mentioned in other articles, are not “out there”. They are formed “in-here”, in our minds, and everyone’s mental model is different, sometimes only slightly, but different nevertheless. We must start being aware of other people’s mind models and start appreciating and understanding them if we want our own meanings and reality to be understood and appreciated by others. Only then can we aspire to start having conversations and communications as adults, and not as four-year-olds. We might even learn something we didn’t know that we didn’t know. It’s time to grow up.
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