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May 06, 2024
Emily: You’re never around. I feel like I’m single again, watching television by myself night after night. 
Paul: What are you talking about? I’ve been home most every night this week. 
Emily: Hah! I don’t think so. You’ve been home once, maybe twice. 
Paul: Are you kidding me? Think about it. We watched that movie on Tuesday, and when did we have carry-out? Wasn’t that Thursday? 
Emily: It feels like you’re never home. 
Paul: And last night we talked about summer plans. 
Emily: I just feel like I’m alone all the time. I’ve said this before, it’s not the first time you’re hearing it. 
Paul: Seriously, count the nights. You’re way off base.  

Anything familiar here? Have you ever found yourself bickering with your partner over what really happened? Debating your version versus mine? 

How easily we forget that there are always two realities at play: objective reality and emotional reality

If every moment of their lives was videotaped, Emily and Paul could rewind the tape and see for themselves how many nights he was actually at home. That would give them information about objective reality. But Emily’s expressing something else entirely: her emotional reality — some sense she has lately of feeling disconnected to Paul, perhaps feeling lonely. Her emotional reality has less to do with the calendar and more to do with her inner experience, her feelings. 

“The truth [objective reality] is…rarely more important than subjective [emotional] reality. Maybe, for example, the truth is more important if your car is stalled on the railroad tracks. You need to know the truth about when the next train is coming. Far more often, however, knowing and respecting what one another is experiencing [emotional reality] is more important.”* 

Once we remember that two realities are always at play, understanding one another’s emotional reality is not that hard to do. Put aside the need to be right (see Right v. Smart) — the need to determine what really happened — and say to your partner, tell me more about that. Instead of bickering over who said what when where and how, say to your partner, tell me more about that. Listen with a third ear for the deeper meaning, for the emotional dimensions beneath the surface. Ask, what does this mean to you? Ask, what makes this important? (Paul might have said to Emily, “What are you trying to tell me? What does this mean to you?”) 

By avoiding the trap of a dead-end debate about what’s true — the objective reality — while staying open to your partner’s emotional reality, you can greatly increase the likelihood of a productive conversation — and a harmonious marriage. 

References & Citations

*Lewis, Jerry M. (1997) Marriage as a Search for Healing. (Brunner Mazel: New York).