Relationship Resource Center
RELATIONSHIP REFLECTIONS

Do You Always Make Sense?

The answer to this simple question is “yes.” But do you realize that the same is true for everyone else on the planet? People are like icebergs: we only get to see about 20% of them at any moment in time. The remaining 80% remains underwater. This includes their past history, traumas, life events, motivations, values, parenting, alcohol history, education, early teachings, etc. We rarely have the opportunity to ask someone who appears to be making little sense “What are you thinking and feeling that causes you to act this way?” However if we presume that some things inside that person are out of our sight and are having an influence on the current situation we can walk through life with more compassionate understanding for the apparently irrational behaviors of others.

Do You Always Make Sense?Imagine the following scenario: you are standing in a grocery store check-out line with about 20 items in your cart. You have not had a good day and you find yourself grumpy and irritable. In front of you is a 40-something aged woman carrying a small child and nothing but a single gallon of milk in her cart. You look at the express lines and see just a few people in those lines. “Shouldn’t she be in one of those lines?” You feel critical and angry. “What is she doing here? She is wasting my valuable time. What is wrong with her judgment?” You rant like this in your head as you wait your turn. Your blood pressure goes up as you get angry. To make matters worse when it is her time to checkout she hands the baby to the cashier who smiles and coos and puts the baby to her face. As more time goes by you can hardly restrain yourself from speaking angrily to the clerk. When you move up to the cash register the cashier smiles and asks if you are having a nice day. You control your anger and instead say in an irritated and mildly sarcastic tone “Cute kid.” As she rings up your items the cashier says sincerely: “Thank you. That is my baby. My husband was killed in Afghanistan five months ago, and now I have to work here to get ends to meet. That was my mom. She is only allowed to bring him by once a day. These brief visits are precious to me.”

Of course your perception and judgment of the woman and the situation change in an instant. Suddenly it all makes sense and you understand. Your anger washes away and you feel compassion for the woman, her son, her Mom and even for the fallen soldier.

So consider this the next time you are fighting with your spouse. You do not allow yourself to say “You are not making any sense!!” Instead you say, “Tell me what it is that allows you to see this situation the way that you do. From what I know and what I see I cannot figure out how you are viewing this.” This will enable you to adopt a more patient attitude that communicates respect and concern to your partner rather than judgment and arrogance. You now realize that whenever you say (or think) “You are not making sense” what you really mean is “You are not making sense to me.”

If only people would think and feel the way you do, they would always make sense to you. However, this is not likely to happen very often. That is because their hidden 80% is totally different from your unseen 80%. The more you live with this deep understanding of individual differences, the more you learn to be tolerant and even respectful of the differences in other peoples’ world views and value systems. The next time your partner seems to assert a ridiculous position or a cowboy driver speeds past you in the right lane and cuts in front of you, you can adopt a posture of curiosity and wonder to yourself what it is in their life that supports the behavior that seems so unreasonable to you.

If you cannot figure out “where your partner is coming from” do not attack their position, instead ask for more information!

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