Have you ever engaged in a perspective battle with your partner? These types of conflicts are very common among couples. When couples are in a perspective battle, they aren’t listening to understand each other, rather, they are listening only to defend their point of view. Couples in perspective battle no longer feel like they are members of the same team. Instead of empathically talking through their differences, couples in this type of conflict become highly contentious and extremely resolute in their own perspective, leaving little to no room for influence or compromise.
To better understand what perspective battles might sound like, here is a recent back-and-forth between Alice and Joe regarding household chores.
Alice and Joe have been married for 10 years. They have entered couples therapy to address “recurring issues” in their relationship. Both partners report that a painful pattern of attack and defend ensues when discussing specific topics like household chores. Alice states that it can feel like she is in a heated debate with no possibility of resolving it. Joe states that he feels like Alice just wants him to agree with her and that his point of view does not matter. Alice and Joe are engaging in a perspective battle.
Alice: “I hate all the chores we have to do on the weekends. You work from home, Joe; why can’t you do more to maintain the house on your breaks?”
Joe: “Ugh! Here we go again. I know you think I just sit around all day, but I am actually busy. I don’t have time to do the laundry or clean the garage, Alice!”
Alice: “Oh, come on! If I were at home all day, I would at least fold and put away the towels that have been in the laundry basket for days…”
Joe: (with a sarcastic tone) “Ok, Alice. You’re always right, and I am always wrong, and I’ll just do everything your way.”
Alice: “Joe, you are missing the big picture. We are supposed to be a team. I feel like I am doing everything around here. It’s starting to stress me out. If you would help out more, I wouldn’t be so angry!”
Joe: “Everything? Really? You are being dramatic, Alice. I do more than you know. All you focus on are the things you want to get done and on your timeline.”
Alice: “You just don’t get it! I want help, but apparently, that’s too much to ask!”
As you can see, perspective battles can escalate quickly. If couples engage in perspective battles regularly, they will likely have a negative perspective of their partner and the relationship as a whole. If you and your partner enter perspective battles often, it’s essential to understand the underlying contributing factors to these patterns.
Ultimately, both partners lose when the perspective battle takes over. In order to win the fight against perspective battles, let’s take a deeper look at some of the common underlying factors that contribute. We’ll share some key strategies to overcome these types of conflicts in your relationship.
Common factors to couple’s conflicts/perspective battles
Conflict is normal and inevitable in close relationships. However, recurrent heated debates can be very damaging to the relationship’s overall health. Here are a few common factors that contribute to this dynamic:
- Differences in experiences and backgrounds: Each individual brings unique experiences, values, and beliefs into the relationship. These differences can lead to contrasting perspectives on various topics, which may ignite disagreements and escalate into battles.
- Emotional triggers and defensiveness: When one partner feels attacked or invalidated, they may instinctively become defensive and fight to protect their point of view. This defensiveness can hinder effective communication and prevent genuine understanding.
- Fear of losing control or influence: Perspective battles can also stem from a fear of losing control or influence within the relationship. People want to know that their opinions and feelings matter to their partner. For instance, when you share an opinion with your partner, and it is met with resistance or defensiveness, it can create a level of insecurity. Thus, you continue to adamantly defend in an effort to maintain a level of influence in the conversation.
- Lack of active listening and empathy: Couples may struggle to listen and understand their partner’s perspective. Failing to empathize with their feelings and experiences can create a disconnect and make it challenging to find common ground.
- Communication breakdown: Poor communication skills, such as interrupting, dismissive language, or invalidating remarks, can escalate minor disagreements into full-blown battles. Ineffective communication can worsen misunderstandings and prevent conflict resolution.
In many cases, a perspective battle is not just a one-time event. Perspective battles occur repeatedly, often over the same issues. Couples may refer to this as “the hamster wheel,” as it seems like they cannot figure out how to get out of the arguments around specific issues in their relationship — these are called gridlocked perpetual problems.
A perspective battle often starts with a gridlocked perpetual problem
“Stuck” or “gridlocked” problems can contribute to a couple’s perspective battle. A couple may have recurrent arguments over these issues and have been unable to establish real resolve or even come to a meaningful compromise.
Perpetual problems are common in relationships and often arise from fundamental differences in values, needs, or personality traits. They are typically not problems that can be fully solved or fixed but require ongoing management and understanding. Some examples of perpetual issues include differences in parenting styles, financial management, intimacy needs, or division of household responsibilities.
Gridlock occurs when partners become deeply entrenched in their respective positions and cannot find common ground or understand each other’s perspectives. These gridlocked perpetual problems evoke strong emotions, leading to increased conflict, resentment, and disconnection within the relationship.
The role of cognitive bias in a perspective battle
Cognitive biases are systematic patterns of thinking or decision-making that can lead to deviations from rational judgment. They are unconscious and often result from mental shortcuts or heuristics that our brains use to process information. Cognitive biases can play a significant role in couple conflicts by shaping how individuals perceive, interpret, and respond to each other’s perspectives. Here is an example from Alice and Joe:
Alice: “I’ve been telling you for weeks that we need to be more mindful about money, but you never listen! You always drop the ball when it comes to paying our bills on time and just buy whatever you want.”
Joe: “That’s not true, and totally unfair to say that I always drop the ball.”
Alice: “Well, you forgot to pay those medical bills last month, didn’t you?”
Joe: “Yes, I may have been a little late paying those bills, but you act like I never pay anything on time. All the other bills got paid on time. And yes, maybe I bought some new exercise equipment, but we have talked about getting it for years. I just finally decided to do it since our bills were paid and we had some money left over.”
In this example, Alice is exhibiting confirmation bias by selectively focusing on the instances where Joe may have had a misstep with money but disregarding the times when Joe might have shown responsibility and awareness with the bill paying and spending. She interprets Joe’s response through the lens of her pre-existing belief that he doesn’t pay bills on time (i.e., medical bills), thus reinforcing her perspective that he “drops the ball” and is irresponsible with their finances.
So, now that you better understand what is happening underneath your perspective battles, what strategies can you and your partner use to improve these interactions?
8 steps to manage perspective battles
Preventing perspective battles in a relationship requires proactive effort and a commitment to healthy communication and mutual respect. Here are some strategies to help avoid perspective battles:
- Cultivate open and non-judgmental communication: Create an environment where you and your partner feel safe expressing your thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment or criticism. Practice active listening and strive to understand each other’s perspectives.
- Practice empathy: Consciously put yourself in your partner’s shoes and understand their emotions and experiences. Validate your partner’s feelings even if you don’t fully agree with their perspective. Empathy helps foster understanding and connection.
- Focus on collaboration, not competition: Approach discussions as collaborative problem-solving exercises rather than battles to win or prove a point. Remember that you are both on the same team and working towards the well-being of your relationship.
- Respect differences: Recognize that it’s natural for individuals to have different perspectives due to unique backgrounds, experiences, and beliefs. Respect your partner’s viewpoint even if you disagree with it.
- Avoid blame and defensiveness: Instead of blaming or attacking each other, focus on the issue at hand. Use “I” statements to express your feelings and needs without putting your partner on the defensive.
- Take breaks when needed: If discussions become heated or emotions escalate, take a break to cool down. Agree on a signal or word that indicates the need for a pause, and resume the conversation later when you both feel calmer and more composed.
- Seek compromise and find common ground: Look for areas of agreement and compromise. Explore solutions that accommodate both perspectives and find a middle ground that satisfies you and your partner to some extent.
- Practice patience and understanding: Some issues may take time to resolve or may never be fully resolved. Practice patience and understanding, focusing on your growth and progress as a couple.
Remember, preventing perspective battles requires ongoing effort and a willingness to prioritize the health and harmony of your relationship over being “right.” Your effort will foster understanding, compromise, and a shared sense of growth and connection.
Need more help with perspective battles in your relationship?
If perspective battles are becoming detrimental to your relationship, consider seeking the assistance of a couples therapist. A trained professional can provide guidance and tools to navigate conflicts more effectively. If you are ready to take the next steps to engage in couples therapy and live in Arizona, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Texas, we can help. Contact us to get started.