This is a conversation with a client that took place in a therapy office. The names and information was edited to protect confidentiality.
“What are you talking about? I was home early three days this week. What about Saturday? I was home all of Saturday,” Tom replied.
“What do you mean you were home early? I ate dinner in front of the TV by myself. When you did get home, you were on the computer. I asked what you were doing and you said work. It was like you were never there.”
“But we spoke about taking the kids to Wisconsin for the weekend. See, I was here. Go ahead, count the days I was at home.”
I had to stop them mid way through the conversation. I recorded the two minute interaction and then played it back to them on the cell phone. They watched the video replay. Mary started to blush. Tom cracked a smile.
“I wish we could record the days I was home early and that would confirm what’s really going on at home,” Tom continued.
Mary crossed her arms. “Oh for Pete’s sake, here we go again.”
I called a time out and we tried to go a little deeper. Tom’s assessment of what happened was true, but so was Mary’s. How could both of them be right?
Tom was looking at the physical reality of the situation. He was home early three days a night. They remember talking about taking the kids to Wisconsin. He recounted the actual conversation. He remembered distinctly being at home on Saturday. If we look at the physical reality, Tom was home three days as promised.
Mary remembers sitting alone in front of the TV eating a dinner alone. She did not remember the time Tom got home. Mary’s emotional reality was that Tom was not present when she needed him. Her emotional reality counted the time spent together and the feelings she felt by being alone. Her emotional reality told her Tom did not keep his promise.
Who is actually telling the truth in the situation? Truth is based on a relational context. If you were supposed to pick the kids up at 3:00pm and forgot, then the physical reality is you are late. Physical reality has to do with actual objects or people and their relation to the objects and people around them.
For relationships to overcome challenges, especially when it is a marriage, knowing that there’s an emotional reality is extremely important. It is a way of understanding what is going on between the two of you. If you are fighting and arguing, but you know that you’ve done all that was asked of you, step out of your physical reality into the emotional reality of the situation.
The key is to ask the other person to tell you more about the situation. When your partner feels you are listening, then you engage in an emotional way with the conversation. Keep saying, “Tell me more”. It automatically overcomes the need for one person to be right. You don’t fall into the trap of confusing the physical reality with the emotional reality of the situation. It is simple to understand, but a great marriage actually takes time and practice dealing with this kind of situation over and over again. Try it, and let me know how it works for you.