If we understand that life is complex, why do we act as if it’s really black and white? Complexity and ambiguity can provoke uneasiness; a common antidote to that anxiety is to decide that life is simple and straightforward. This reductionist view is what underlies the belief that you are right and the other is wrong. It is what fuels the emotional storm that emerges when that belief is challenged.

Life feels safer when things are clear cut.

We simplify issues in order to avoid uncomfortable feelings, like the anxiety of uncertainty, the guilt over our own darker motivations, or the disappointment in our partner. We invest heavily in this simplistic view, too, and often get defensive if it is questioned.

Blaming our partner is a key symptom of seeing things in a dualistic manner.

When you feel defensive about your position, it usually indicates that deep inside you do not fully believe that you are right. The defensive emotionality is a crutch to help you hold on to your perspective.  When someone challenges you and you entertain the idea that there’s even a chance that they are right, that can be threatening. The response is often to dig in deeper and defend even more.  Many people fiercely hold onto the idea that they are right because their only alternative is to believe that they are wrong.

You can have an emotion and it can be valid without it meaning that the other person is wrong.

Your emotions do not define or contain the truth of the situation. They are great information about your experience, but there is room for a different experience to exist at the same time. When you can accept that both people can have a valid point, you can release the need to defend your own position and your refusal to consider the other’s.  Once you allow the possibility that there are two valid positions, it ceases to be true that the only solution is for one person to be right and the other wrong. You may not know what the solution is, but you break through the assumptions that limited you. All kinds of new solutions are now possible.

Learning to tolerate complexity requires self-soothing.

It requires that you validate your own experience and find the validity in your partner’s. It requires entering the dialectic – that place where two seemingly mutually exclusive ideas can be true at the same time. Take a deep breath. Assume your partner has an important and worthwhile point of view. Start with the assumption that you are both right. Then begin to look at how you are both wrong, how you both contribute to the problem and how each of you can change or let go in order to create more space for mutual understanding and forward progress.

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