When I see people as couples, it baffles me that they are often on the attack with each other. I usually tell them, “Don’t attack your allies, or you will lose the war.” It seems obvious to me that if you have a relationship with someone who is supposed to be a friend and who is supposed to be supportive and constructive, you would want to protect that relationship and nurture that person. Even if only for self-interest. In the same way, if you come to me to help you with your marriage, it doesn’t make sense to attack me, or to rage against therapy and therapists in general. But sometimes people get so interested in being right, they sacrifice any possible gains by sticking to their opinions at all costs.
We can sometimes see in ourselves a certain feeling of disconnect, or alienation, from relationships which we know are fundamentally sound. We may find ourselves criticizing our friend or our partner and later justifying it to ourselves as “being honest,” or, worse, “pointing out his or her problem (or conflict or error).” We feel like there is some ultimate truth and we are being accurate. We don’t want to compromise ourselves or operate in an illusional way. In other words, we don’t want to “fake it” in the relationship just to make it work. We feel like we are pursuing genuine intimacy, and that requires complete honesty.
The problem is that the truth can be spun all different ways, and relationships are always changing. Meanings and motives are complicated and multi-dimensional. We are selfish and altruistic at the same time. Our allies are helpful and self-serving at the same time. We do have a fundamental motive toward the well-being of another person or we don’t, but there is a lot of grey area in that reality.
Our judgment problem is figuring out who our allies are and to whom we commit our loyalty, in other words to whom are we allies. There is no relationship without loss and error because we are all human. The trick is in figuring out which relationships we can stick with and which we need to dilute or back off of. It is very common for me to see people who are trying to batter a relationship into being what they want. They continue to criticize it and the other person. They will neither accept the reality of it nor let it go.
Context is everything, and a decision about what kind of relationship you have with that person creates the context. If you are in a committed, ally relationship, then any communication takes that reality into account as a starting point and a basis for conversation. If the relationship is more tentative, the conversation takes a different form. We are never merely transmitting information to another person, we are creating and reinforcing the definition of the type of relationship we have by how we do that.