In my decades of practice, I have learned that subjective reality has much to answer for. If it were a character in a novel, it would most certainly be the most cunning and manipulative antagonist. Subjective reality has caused some of the largest roof-raising arguments I have ever heard, and if we look back at our own lives, I am sure we can relate.
So, let’s start with the basics. Objective reality encompasses the tangible world that exists independently of individual perception. These are occurrences that are physically measured. Such as, it is 71 degrees at the moment, or there is an Oak tree growing in our front yard.
Then we have Subjective Reality – This is how each partner experiences events. Two people can and often experience the same thing very differently. At 71 degrees, one person says, ‘I feel cold in here,’ and the other states, ‘ I feel hot.’ One person remembers events one way, and another disagrees.
As a psychologist, exploring the dynamic relationship between these two dimensions of reality is intriguing, as they significantly influence our thoughts, behaviors, and overall mental well-being, and our ‘friend,’ subjective reality, is the cause of many arguments.
Objective Reality: Our Common Ground
Objective reality provides the foundation on which our relationship is built. It includes shared experiences, external events, and the physical, observable aspects of the partnership.
In a relationship, objective reality includes elements such as the history of the relationship, such as joint financial decisions, and the physical responsibilities and roles each partner assumes. It is the backdrop against which the drama of life unfolds.
Understanding and acknowledging objective reality is crucial for every relationship. This common ground provides stability and a shared reality within the relationship. It gives you something to turn to when times get hard.
Subjective Reality: A Personal Perspective
Subjective reality is the lens through which each partner perceives and interprets the objective world of their life and the relationship. It encompasses personal emotions, beliefs, values, and individual experiences. This dimension of reality influences each partner’s subjective experiences and reactions within the marriage.
Within a relationship, subjective reality is often closely tied to emotions such as love, happiness, jealousy, or anger. It shapes the unique perceptions of the relationship’s quality and the roles and expectations of each partner. Subjective reality also molds individual interpretations of events and interactions, adding depth and personal significance to objective experiences.
For example, Cassie, now in her late 30s, had a tumultuous relationship in her early 20s. Her boyfriend, Mike, flirted with other women, canceled dates at the last minute to hang out with his mates, and his moods would turn from hot to cold in a heartbeat, creating chaos and instability in Cassie’s life. Cassie longed for a committed relationship, but Mike would never commit. One day, while Cassie was at home, listening to music, Mike sent her a text saying the relationship was over. Despite the tumultuous relationship, Cassie was heartbroken. To this day, Cassie can not listen to that specific song that was playing when she received the text without the memory coming flooding back. Despite his unwavering kindness and gentle demeanor towards her, she feels very unsettled when her husband is in a bad mood and is a stickler for ensuring she honors her commitments. Our past shapes our present, coloring our subjective understanding of our experiences.
The Interplay Between Objective and Subjective Reality in Your Relationship
The interplay between objective and subjective realities is the canvas on which our relationship is painted. It is essential to recognize that this interplay is not always harmonious; honestly, there would be something very wrong if it were. Conflict is normal and, at times, essential in any relationship as it helps clear misunderstandings and encourages needed change.
Arguments, misunderstandings, and conflicts arise when a partner interprets and responds to objective events and circumstances. The objective reality may remain constant, but their reaction to the subjective realities can differ significantly, leading to differing opinions.
For instance, Zara and Nathaniel saved for many years to put a deposit down on their investment property. This was a decision they made together, and this is now a shared objective reality. However, Zara and Nathaniel react very differently when they receive the keys to the property. Zara is thrilled; this is a step towards her financial security, and she is already lining up tenants. Nathaniel, on the other hand, is worried. Despite choosing to invest, he can’t stop thinking of the risk. Nathaniel grew up in a home where his parents struggled to make ends meet, whereas Zara’s parents came from money. This reaction is shaped by their own subjective reality—shaped by their beliefs, fears, and personal financial experiences—resulting in vastly different emotional responses.
Navigating Marital Challenges Through a Balanced Perspective
As a Psychologist, I often work with couples to help them navigate the dynamic between objective and subjective realities. A balanced perspective integrating both dimensions is critical to promoting a healthy, fulfilling relationship. It involves acknowledging and validating each partner’s reality while grounding it in objective reality.
For example, in couples therapy, I may assist a couple to explore how each partner’s subjective experiences and emotions influence their reactions and interactions within the objective reality of the marriage. This process can help identify misunderstandings and areas of potential conflict, ultimately fostering healthier communication and mutual understanding.
Using Irimi to understand your partner better.
In my practice, I use a technique called Verbal Aikido. Aikido is a Japanese martial art founded by Morihei Ueshiba during the period of the Pacific War when Japan engaged in some of the most violent conflicts of the 20th century. He developed Aikido as a way to join together in peace. Its aim is not to defeat an adversary but to unify oneself and create harmony.
Aikido can be translated as “The way to harmonize energies.”
One Aikido technique I regularly is called Irimi. Irimi encourages you to focus on your partner to understand their energy and its origin. This essential and peaceful step helps defuse conflict, taking the hostility and anger out of the situation so that you can both sit down and come to a harmonious understanding.
To better understand your partner’s experienced or subjective reality using an Irimi move, try asking the following questions or statements:
- “What was your biggest turn-off about this?”
- “I think I would also have trouble coping with that.”
- “Okay, I think I understand. It sounds like you’re feeling ______.”
- “That would make me feel insecure, too.”
- “Are there parts of yourself that are in conflict?”
- “What meaning does this have for you?”
- “How might this situation impact you?”
Knowing that you care enough to understand your partner’s viewpoint often serves to diffuse negative emotions better, allowing you both to find workable solutions to your conflicts.
In the ever-changing dance that is a relationship, the interplay between objective and subjective realities is always present. Recognizing the influence of both dimensions on the relationship is essential to help cultivate a deeper understanding of your partner while showing them you want to learn and improve within your marriage.
Couples who work together to address challenges create a stronger, more resilient bond in their marriage by cultivating a balanced perspective that integrates both dimensions. As a psychologist, I stress the importance of embracing this duality to promote healthier, more fulfilling relationships.
To learn more about objective versus subjective reality and its importance in your relationship, download our mini-course: “Discover harmony in your relationship: A Psychologist’s guide to conflict resolution.”
This mini course introduces you to the concept and principals of Verbal Aikido and its application in marital communication. Verbal Aikido empowers you to resolve marital conflict in a harmonious manner that fosters unity in your relationship. We then explore the importance of emotional connection and how modern day technology has entirely changed our communication methods. Finally, we learn about conflict igniters, what this is, how this behaviour leads to contention and disharmony and we teach you how to address these behaviours effectively and harmoniously to achieve resolution.
Our entire course is also available on our website, as well as books, our blog, and other classes. www.angercoach.com, follow the link, and start your journey to a harmonious relationship.