One simple exercise I do with couples who are arguing about an issue is I pull out a jar I have that has a bunch of marbles in it (hey, I specialize in helping people find their lost marbles or replacing them with new ones), and I ask them to each hold on to it and to give 3 different ways to describe it.
A little bit disoriented because they aren’t expecting this interruption in their usual argument, they take the marble and describe it.
Him: spherical, colored, hard
Her: cool, smooth, clear.
They then look at me expectantly.
I ask them who is wrong in their assessment. They both agree that neither of them are wrong. I point out that in their current argument that preceded this intervention, they weren’t wrong either. They just have different ways of seeing things. When they eventually take this way of seeing it to heart and add their two perspectives together, they find that they have a fuller understanding of the argument and what feeds it. Then they are better able to let go and move on to problem solving.
In relationships, romantic or otherwise, there are no contradictions. There are only paradoxes. The reality in a relationship is not that one is wrong and another is right. The reality is that we are grasping at a common, as one of my clients put it adroitly, “good-enough truth,” meaning a truth that is “good enough for government work,” as, philosophically, there is an argument that one cannot fully know a full reality of a truth, but can only perceive and interpret it.
Seeing only contradictions does not lead to a greater understanding, it just leads to animosity and feeling frozen. When we open up to the possibility that both of us are right, then we enter into the realm of paradox, where it is OK to have different perspectives, even if they both seem to be in conflict on the surface. When we accept more than one perspective as a possible way to see that “good enough truth,” then we grow and gain a greater appreciation of the larger, real truth. We realize that the marble is not just spherical, colored, and hard, it is also cool, smooth, and clear at the same time. Then we discover that, not only is it those things, but that it is also greater and that there are other ways to look at the marble that we aren’t even aware of, that are unknown.