We don’t have many facts in life, however people argue with their partners as though they have indisputable facts that directly prove that their partner is lying or is wrong. I define a fact as something that you can physically reference when telling your story. To explain this, I will describe a research project that I witnessed in college. I was in class and the professor asked a student in the front row to put her purse on the table and someone was going to come in the room and pretend to steal it. The only people who knew what was about to happen was the woman with the purse, the professor, the “thief” and the campus police. So class started and a man ran in the classroom, took the purse and ran out. Campus police came in and asked everyone for a statement. Students were sure that what they witnessed was accurate. Some people described the man as 5 foot 7 and Latino, some described the man as 6 foot 1 who was Caucasian, some people said he had a hat some people didn’t recall the hat. It was a surprise to many who then saw the videotape of the “robbery” that what they believed were facts were not correct. There are many things that occur that cause us to believe that our perceptions are facts. People swore that their memory was correct and stated that they had facts to report. After seeing the video, people admitted that their “facts” weren’t really facts. Perceptions are created by many things. It can be affected by how good your eyesight is, what angle you were at when you experienced the event, and it can also be affected by your past experiences. Our brain wants to complete the story for us, so it uses our past experiences to do just that. Often times, it IS accurate. But just as often, it is not as accurate. In the story above, the only facts are that the purse was there before, and that the purse wasn’t there after. The video would also be considered a “fact” because it can be referenced as something that did happen with 100% certainty.
The next time you are arguing with someone and swear that your perception is the correct one, please remember this story. Perhaps you can see that you each have your own perceptions and that both of you probably believe that your perception is the correct one.
This is why a therapist can be so helpful. They can often guide the conversation and point out areas of the conversation where there are discrepancies and talk about ways to really give your partners perception a chance of being true (even if it’s only true for them). This new understanding can often help couples to understand each other, have compassion for one another, and be willing to listen to each other more often.
If you are looking to increase your communication skills or get relationship help in Long Beach, Lakewood, or the surrounding area, give me a call to set up an appointment.