How does your partner see you?
- Strong or fragile
- Aggressive or passive
- Caring or cold
- Clueless or smart
- Supportive or critical
- Emotional or rational
- Trustworthy or suspicious
The “filters” through which we see our partners affect how we perceive their actions, expressions and words; and subsequently affect how we respond. The powerful lenses of perception can have a dramatic impact on our relationships since once you become accustomed to those lenses you may not even be aware of them.
Glen and Toni came to see us after Glen’s heart attack. (Names changed to protect privacy.)
Bob: What brings you here today?
Toni: Two months ago Glen had a heart attack. When the ambulance arrived, the paramedic asked me if Glen had any history of heart problems; I said no. It was only later that I learned Glen’s cardiologist had recently found a heart murmur. I can’t believe he hadn’t told me. Aren’t we supposed to go through everything together?
Bob: That is a pretty important issue to not have discussed. What happened Glen?
Glen: I’ve known Toni for twelve years. She is a worrier and doesn’t handle stress very well. I didn’t tell her to protect her from worrying about me.
Bob: Why do you see Toni as fragile?
Glen: When her dad died suddenly last year she was a wreck – didn’t eat or sleep for weeks. She cried every day for a month. So how could I lay this on her?
Toni: Just because I grieved for my father doesn’t mean I’m weak. I need to know everything about you. I gave the paramedic the wrong information when you had a heart attack.
Glen: I know; I know.
Bob: Glen, what you did was “stereotype” Toni by seeing her through a lens of weakness; and you made a critical decision based upon this.
Toni: What is “stereotyping?”
Bob: Stereotyping is consciously or unconsciously viewing your partner in a way that simplifies and limits how you see him/her. Glen labeled you as “fragile.” Seeing you through that lens, he withheld vital information from you about his health and avoided his feelings about burdening you.
Stereotyping can be harmful to your relationship since it:
- Labels partners simplistically in rigid and unchangeable ways.
- Lacks sensitivity to the complexity of humans and the interplay of our thoughts and feelings.
- Reduces partners to a caricature as a way of satisfying our need for predictability, security and control in relationships and our world.
- Creates judgment and blame.
- Compromises the opportunity for mutual problem solving, individual and couples growth and ultimately a deeper connection.
Now ask yourself again, “How does your partner see you?” and “How do you see your partner?”