When I was little my uncle George (who always gave very unique gifts) gave my brother and me some really cool kaleidoscopes for Christmas. I spent the entire trip back from their house in Jersey twisting the lens and making new designs with the tiny flecks of plastic inside. I would pass it to my brother and he would see something different than I did in each design. “It’s an elephant!” I’d say. “No,” he’d say, “It’s the Statue of Liberty!” How, pray tell, did I see an elephant while he saw the Statue of Liberty? I now understand how we could see such radically different things…. perspective.
Some of the most pivotal moments in my life revolve around an epiphany—finally seeing things through another’s eyes. In my own relationships and in those I witnessed while conducting therapy, I found moments of clarity when able to view a life, event, behavior or even a personality trait through the lens of another person. This can be life changing.
The importance of gaining perspective in any relationship is immeasurable and often very difficult. Seeing the world through another’s eyes requires a person to suspend their own impressions, history, emotion, and preconceived ideas. It also requires vulnerability—a feeling that not everyone finds comfortable or natural.
Many times in my own life things that appeared one way from my perspective and vantage point were far different from the actual reality for the other person. Anytime there is friction in a relationship I go immediately to gaining perspective. Sometimes my husband can appear angry when he’s actually sad about something. Often a reaction to a situation can be colored by a backstory that I was unaware of. Marriage is a constant learning process and a continual perspective gaining process, as is any relationship.
This topic reminds me of a couple I worked with in therapy. They were experiencing great conflict over the number of hours the husband was working. The wife, raising their three young children, was feeling the strain of being the primary caretaker and was also feeling lonely and disconnected from her husband. After several sessions, the husband offered up his motive for becoming a workaholic. He thought if he didn’t make his small business a success (it was floundering) that he was failing to provide for his family. He was taught from a young age that if you don’t provide for your family you are a failure. His wife, on the other hand, was only seeing things from her perspective—needing attention and feeling neglected. In his mind he was attending to her needs and the needs of the family, but they were not able to understand one another’s experiences until they verbalized them in their therapy sessions. They were too caught up in their individual experiences to see their partner’s perspective.
When you are able to see life through another’s eyes, it allows for empathy, understanding, forgiveness and compromise. I have witnessed this process in my therapy sessions with clients and had this experience in my own life. These moments are relationship game changers. Often, these pivotal moments of growth bring a relationship closer with greater trust and decreased conflict. People often come together when they know the “backstory” of a person’s behavior.
As a kid, I remember a particularly happy memory with my mom, floating on rafts in our backyard pool. Much like the kaleidoscope I talked about earlier, we would watch the clouds drift by and compare what shape we’d see in each one. I would see a rabbit where she would see a hand making a peace sign. She’d see a smiley face where I would see a sailboat. Perspective is everything—especially in relationships. And it’s quite true that sometimes it’s a peace sign and a rabbit. It really can be both.