Boldly Going To Your Partner’s Planet


I read a blog post recently that talked about the most fundamental aspect required for missions in the show Star Trek: The Next Generation (Gizmodo). The reason the Enterprise crew was so successful is because all of the characters believed in each other's aptitude and trusted their judgement at the start. When a character came upon something unusual or presented an emerging problem, the team's first response was not to question the authenticity or validity of their assessment. Assuming a person's reporting was reliable offered a framework for the real action to start. As one commenter states, you aren’t spending precious time trying to convince the others what you saw as real, and therefore much discovery got to take place.

Most couples work begins with a desire for resolution for different reasons. One of the harder things to do in relational work is to open yourself to the other person’s experience as they are describing it. It can go against your own understanding of the past and reality you now inhabit. These gulfs in perception can set off intense reactions. The most dangerous part of those moments are not the objective material we argue over - some of us really are that bad at loading the dishwasher. It's the denial of the other person’s emotional landscape as authentic. The tendency to negate your partner when you say ‘how could you possibly feel that bad over this old argument,’ or ‘you’re being too sensitive to this thing that is obviously so small’ or simply 'I don't believe you feel that way,' ends up as most destructive.

The first step is to trust that your partner is an expert in their own lives. From there, stay connected while they explain their emotional responses to a scenario. Come from a place of being an interested friend before investing in your own version. Listening with an open heart in the midst of conflict can be maddening as it is painful. But when your partner is sharing from their true vulnerable places, nothing but truth is said. Further risk comes during the second piece of this path - belief your pain, fear, joy, and hope is just as meaningful. One person cannot make the other wrong for their sensations. Your subjectivity is meeting another’s subjectivity to piece together the lay of the land.

Partnerships can come with self-interest and deception, and they will eventually need a dose of compromise. The trick is understanding that you are invested in this person as a partner, and you owe it to them to believe they come from a place of good faith even when it cuts across your own needs. With practice, the fruits of listening deeply in the middle of conflict - even hard conflict - go from ‘that’s not true’ to ‘tell me more.’ Different cultures from far flung places in the galaxy can still work together. How can you complete the mission otherwise?

by Deva Segal, MFT intern @The San Francisco Marriage and Couples Center