Welcome to the second installment of my blog, Softer Eyes. In my first posting, I described the concept of Softer Eyes. In essence, Softer Eyes refers to the ability to view our partner through a compassionate, benevolent lens. When most couples present for couples therapy, they are hurt and understandably angry with their partner. While this hurt and anger is often justified, it is not a helpful state to remain in if you want your relationship to improve. Typically when I work with a couple, I see two distressed people who are wondering how their partner could have “changed” so much over the years. They wonder, “how did this person who loved me so much turn into someone who could hurt me so?”
Relationships can take some ugly turns. Couples who were at one time so much in love, often find themselves wondering how can I stay with the person I now see in front of me. This occurs, in part, because when we are hurt we are able to focus only on the behavior(s) that our partner has engaged in that we find offensive. Oftentimes, when couples enter therapy, they are “experts” on their partner’s bad behavior. However, in order to get better we must be willing to take a look at our part in what may be going wrong in our relationship. Even if our part is small, relationships are the result of a partnership between two people, and we must be willing to dig down and ask ourselves how we may have contributed to where we are. While this may prove challenging, the reality is that our own behavior is all we can control and change. This is where the concept of softer eyes can be most useful.
In my office, I have a lithograph with a quote from Hillel, the noted Jewish scholar. I didn’t purchase this lithograph because I’m so religious; rather I purchased it because I think it describes the essence of couples’ therapy. Hillel says, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I?” In my opinion, Hillel is reminding us that we are responsible for taking care of ourselves, asserting ourselves, and doing what we can do get our needs met. However, we are not only about what we want, but also have an obligation to be mindful of, and sensitive to, the needs of others. Now, no one argues these points, and they are hardly the profound words that get to the heart of couples therapy. However, what do we do when our needs conflict with those of our partners? Whose needs trump whose? What do we do when I want to go “left” and you want to go “right?” To me, resolving this question is the essence of couples’ therapy. Helping couples navigate the difficult terrain of having competing needs and wants is, indeed, the primary task of much of working with couples in therapy.
It is my belief that the concept of Softer Eyes gives us a path to resolution of this type of issue. If I am able to see my partner sensitively, compassionately, and lovingly, I will find it easier to bend when I can, and be more understanding of my partner when he/she cannot. If I can find my way to Softer Eyes, I will be able to release some of my anger, acknowledge and own my part in our difficulties, and help to create a change in our interaction that can lead us back to the loving, fulfilling place we used to know.
I know many will find this difficult. At the present time, you may not want to let go of your hurt and the vision of your partner as malevolent. But I would encourage you to take a risk. Taking risks is how we grow. Take the risk to allow yourself to view your partner through Softer Eyes and see what happens. I think you may be pleasantly surprised. If you can let go of the lens of anger you will feel much better.
Let me know how it goes.