Once upon a time...

By Amy Stewart, LMFT

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Once upon a time in a faraway land when science was real and news was not fake, objective truth could be found the world over. In any disagreement, one person was right and one person was wrong. Alas, this is no longer the case because… none of those things have ever been true in the first place.

Unless the truth at issue is dependent upon the logical and consistent laws of nature (think 2+2=4, gravity causes apples to fall from trees, the device you are reading this on exists whether you are holding it or not) there is no capital T Truth.  

As my clients are intimately familiar with me saying: you might think my sofa is gray-blue, you might say charcoal. Neither are wrong, nor are they right, because we all live in our own versions of reality. We filter everything, from colors to words to experiences, through the lens of our own unique perspectives, which then become our own truths, which we use to frame stories about the whys and hows of our worlds.  This means in any conversation, there is each individual’s story and the shared narrative between them. 

And this is where we run into trouble. 

Because we buy into our own stories and are humans wanting to be right, we find evidence to support our narratives and are quick to dismiss information to the contrary. In some areas this is functional and even necessary (the earth is not flat.) In relationships, however, buying into our own stories without checking in with our partner can lead to arguments and frustration with little room for understanding, empathy or change. We make meaning about behaviors, statements and experiences that may not align with our partner’s experience and spiral from there.

One simple way to check in about our narratives is by using the prompt: 

The Story I’m Telling Myself Is….

The story I’m telling myself is… you were late because you don’t care about how important this event was to me. 

The story I’m telling myself is… you’re not interested in sex because you are not attracted to me. 

The store I’m telling myself is… you keep sending me flat earth videos to annoy me and not because you actually believe this is a thing, right?

The prompt takes pressure off of the speaker by highlighting it’s simply their version of events and doesn’t immediately put the listener on the defensive, as it feels less like an attack.  It puts one partner’s version of a situation between both people in order to take a gander together, with the listener able to comment on their experience of the same event. It can make room for complaints without spurring an argument or be a way out once one has already begun. 

Sometimes your stories will be accurate and sometimes less so, either way voicing them allows you the opportunity to collaborate with a shared narrative moving you closer to happily ever after.