Changing The Narrow Window of Your Preconceptions
Our perceptions are colored by experience. Perception becomes preconception. Preconception becomes perception. (Look at the image on the left and read the caption.) When something feels familiar to us we fit it into our expectations rather than look for what might be new. We seem designed to do this most in relation to things that we perceive as threatening or dangerous. (Emotional threats are as real to our minds as physical threats.) Most emotional reactivity is a reaction against our deeply felt emotional experience and against allowing our vulnerability to show. When we are in emotionally reactive states our use of language, our beliefs, and our anticipations reinforce our preconceptions of our partner and or our relationship.
Opportunities For Change Feel Limited
When there is ongoing trouble your individual and shared picture of yourself and the relationship is one that has become limited and constraining. It has this quality: “I can only feel a, b, or c, in relation to her 1, 2 or 3. He will always act L or M, when I act 7 or 5. I can only say z when she says 9. When she’s critical, I have to be defensive. When he’s cold, I have to withdraw.” It’s as if you look through a narrow window to see your relationship. Opportunities for change feel very limited when the relationship is seen through this narrow window.
Your Negative Perceptions Of Your Husband Or Wife Are Reinforced By Your Quick Reaction To Perceived Threat
Your wife’s narrowing eyes and tightening lips might obscure her sadness and longing for you. If you look at her just a minute longer, with tenderness, and perhaps hold her hand, you might see and remember how much she loves and needs you. When your husband looks quickly away and goes to his computer or football game this will certainly make you doubt that you matter to him. In these moments you cannot see how he hides his hope for your friendship and regard. If you sit next to him and offer your affection by putting your hand on the back of his neck for a bit, you might find how happy he is to have you near. Of course these things do not change everything in a minute. We do get stuck in our perceptions in complex ways and our needs for one another are complex. But I will guarantee you (Read About Me–Robert Ogner, LCSW,), after 35 years of helping couples, that you are only seeing a little bit of how important you are to your partner.
Couple Therapy Helps You Take A More Lingering Look At Each Other In The Face Of Those Negative Perceptions
Couple therapy helps to broaden the narrow window of your preconceptions. It does this through exploration, surprise, new supplies of empathy, and new anchoring experiences that alter those preconceptions. At the completion of therapy you should each be able to say, “There is much more room for each of us to feel, to think, to say and to move in our relationship! We have more repertoire and more range in our response to each other. We get to be surprised more often. We have more empathy and more freedom with each other.”
With a usually, but imperfectly, open mind,
Robert Ogner, February 4, 2008