We often assume the way we see our spouse is simply the way they are. But actually, most of us see our spouse through a distorted filter. My Dad recently had cataract surgery. When the cataracts were removed, he was surprised how much clearer and whiter his vision was—he had assumed for years that the way he saw them was simply the way they were. But in reality it was not the way they were—it was the way he saw them. The same is true for us. We see our spouse through a filter that distorts who they really are. Today on the podcast I’ll talk about this filter, how we develop this filter, what problems it creates and how to remove it.
What you’ll learn on the podcast
Free Mini-Coaching Session
Sign-up for a free 30-min. mini-coaching session. It can help make a struggling marriage better, and good marriage amazing.
Each week I carefully craft a short perspective shift or tool that you can read in about a minute or two. You can sign up here.
Follow me on Instagram or find more free resources on my website
Please leave a review on your favorite podcast app. It helps other people find it!
Episode 28: Seeing Your Spouse with New Eyes
Welcome back to the podcast! We just finished Chinese New Year here—this is one of the biggest celebrations in China. One of the things I love about living abroad is celebrating local holidays. It seems like this is often when culture is at it’s peak. This is our 6th year in Asia and I’ve really come to love this holiday because right when winter seems to be at it’s bleakest point after the holidays and before spring Chinese New Years arrives with his vibrant colors, delicious foods, and wonderful music. This year, due to COVID a lot of the regular CNY events were canceled, so we decided to create a celebration at home. We ordered Tang Dynasty dresses for the girls and we also ordered full sized Chinese dragon. The dragon is made of fabric. It is long enough for at least 5 or more people to each carry a part and it chases the ball of wisdom. My little 5-year-old was delighted she got to carry the ball. You check out a picture of it on my Instagram page @theexpatmomcoach. And share pictures of your family enjoying holidays around the world! I’d love to see some of your experiences!
As you know this month we are focusing on marriage. We’ve covered why you can’t MAKE your spouse happy, and how to improve intimacy in your marriage. There are so many awesome topics and tools to share, it’s hard to decide which ones to do first! Today I’m excited to share one of my very favorite relationship tools—how to see your spouse differently.
Analogy of Eye and Seeing Differently
My Dad recently had some eye surgery for some cataracts. I had heard of cataracts but it was interesting to research exactly what they are. Cataracts are eye tissue that has broken down and clumped together. Because cataracts are positioned right in the lens they scatter light and make the images less sharp.
In order to correct vision, a doctor goes in and removes the cataract and reshapes the lens. They do the procedure one eye at a time—just to be sure that both eyes aren’t at risk if something goes wrong. After the procedure my dad noticed that not only was his vision less blurry with the eye that was corrected—but everything was whiter. For years he had been seeing things with a yellow filter, but he had no idea. It just seemed like the way it was. Once he had the cataract removed, he could see things were brighter and more vibrant than he had realized.
This is such a beautiful analogy to marriage. Like the filter created by the cataract that changed the color of my Dad’s vision, we see our spouse through a filter—in fact we see them through a number of different filters. These filters affect what we see in and about our spouse. It also affects how we feel and think about what we see, and it affects how we act towards our spouse. The problem is that often these filters offer us a distorted vision of our spouse—and when we see our spouse this way we feel irritated, impatient, frustrated and hurt. And, when we feel those emotions we often snap at our spouse, avoid them, treat them poorly etc. Today I want to help identify one of the most important filters we unknowingly create that distorts how we see our spouse, and I’d like to share how we can remove it so we can see our spouse as they really are and build more connection and love.
Before I explain about this filter, I want to let you know about a free resource I have. I know in this community we’re all busy! So, I decided to create something that would give moms a boost and wouldn’t require much time. Every week I carefully craft a short tip or perspective that is designed to be read in about 1 minute. I often share personal stories or anonymous stories of clients to demonstrate small mindset shifts that can make a big difference in your life. I call it “One-Minute-Wisdom.”
Let me tell you about an experience one reader shared. She was having a difficult time getting her daughter talk much about her day after school. When she asked her how her day was she just said, good. The more she asked her daughter questions the more she seemed to clam up or want to leave. She had read one of the One-Minute Wisdom about how kids sometimes feel anxiety when we ask them questions in absolutes like, “What is your favorite, the best, the worst etc.” It suggested using more open words and being more specific in your questions such as, “What was something you learned in math today?” Or what was something you did during recess?” This mom started using this strategy and found her daughter started sharing a lot more! And, as a result this momma and daughter felt a lot closer.
You can sign-up for “One-Minute Wisdom” in the show notes. It’s totally free. Each week you’ll receive a short tip or tool right to your inbox that is designed to be read in about a minute. Is your emotional health and your relationships worth a minute of your time every week?
Problem: The filter of self-betrayal
I explained that most of don’t see our spouses as they really are. We see them through a filter and the filter often distorts the way we see our spouse. Just as my Dad’s cataract created a filter that blurred his vision and distorted the way he saw colors without him even realizing it, our brains create these filters without us even being aware often. It simply feels like the way things are.
These filters are caused by a variety of things including expectations of how a spouse “should” be as well as our mood and there are many others. However, today I want to speak to a filter, that I believe is the MOST distorting in the way we see our spouse. And, it has the potential to improve our relationships more than any other filter.
The filter I’m referring to is caused by self-betrayal.
Let me give you an example to explain what I mean by self-betrayal and how it might distort the way we see our spouse. I learned about this filter or this concept from an excellent book called “The Bonds that Make Us Free” by C. Terry Warner.
He tells the story of a Businessman and his wife laying in bed. Here is the businessman’s first-hand account: “The other night about 2:00am I awoke to hear the baby crying. At that moment I had a fleeting feeling, a feeling that if I got up quickly I might be able to see what was wrong before Carolyn (my wife) would be awakened. It was a feeling that this was something I really ought to do. But I didn’t get up to check on the baby.”
Now, this might not seem like any grevious problem at first glance. It’s just a person who had a thought and didn’t act on it. But by ignoring this little urge to help his wife, this businessman betrayed himself.
Each of us has a core set of values we want to live by—maybe kindness, generosity etc. When we don’t act in alignment with these values, we betray ourselves. This is more of a problem than we may think at first.
There is a fall out from self-betrayals…even small little ones like this. As humans, we don’t like to have incongruence between who we want to be and who we are. So, we’re faced with two alternatives. Change what we think we should do, or change what we do.
The businessman couldn’t just go back to sleep. He was in cognitive dissonance. In order to feel at peace he would have had to get up, or justify why he shouldn’t have to get up.
“It bugged me that Carolyn wasn’t waking up. I kept thinking it was her job to take care of the baby. She has her work and I have mine, and mine is hard. It stars early in the morning. She can sleep in. On top of that, I never know how to handle the baby anyway. I wondered if Carolyn was lying there waiting for me to get up. Why did I have to feel so guilty that I couldn’t sleep? The only thing I wanted was to get to work fresh enough to do a good job. What was so selfish about that?”
And it didn’t stop there—as soon as he decided not to get up he began thinking of evidence about why staying in bed wasn’t his fault. He began thinking about his presentation the next day and how important it was for him to be fresh. He began assuming that maybe Carolyn was just pretending to sleep—and she was being deceitful. He began wondering if Carolyn had thoughtlessly forgotten to change the baby before putting her to bed which was why the baby was waking up now. In other words, this was her fault in the first place, he thought.
It all started with a small thought that he should get up—prompted by his personal core value of kindness and helpfulness. Once he dismissed it his brain when to work compiling data that seemed comprehensive enough to be used in a courtroom in order to justify himself! In other words, the story of justification he created allowed him to let himself off the hook of doing what he believed he should do. And in the process of letting himself off the hook—he now created a distorted view of his wife. He now thought of her as lazy, deceptive, selfish, and thoughtless.
And you can imagine what the impatient and irritated exchange might have looked like of him waking her up to take care of the baby, or how he might have snapped at her in the morning when he was tired and running late because he blamed her for his problems.
But ironically—as you can see from this example, there wasn’t actually any real evidence his created story was true. Before he had the thought he should get up and help her, he was thinking of his wife as a loving mother who sacrificed for their family. He felt compassion for how tired she was. That was why he felt the urge to get up in the first place.
Because he betrayed his own core value of kindness, he unknowingly created a distorted filter through which he saw his wife.
Warner shares a n interesting quote by Blaise Pascal from the 17th century who wrote, “It is no doubt an evil to be full of faults, but it is a still greater evil to be full of them and unwilling to recognize them, since this entails the future evil of self-delusion.”
The truth is, that when we betray ourselves, we lose the ability to see ourselves or others as they really are because we are looking through a distorted lens.
We don’t realize it, but we don’t see our spouse as THEY are, we see our spouse as WE are. So if we aren’t living with integrity to who we want to be, we end up projecting our faults onto our spouse.
Self-betrayals are simple, every-day events. A self-betrayal might look like feeling an urge to do the dishes and not doing it. It might look like agreeing to take the dry cleaning or go to dinner somewhere, but making it clear to the other person that you don’t want to so they feel they put you out. It might look like pretending everything is fine when it isn’t just so you don’t have deal with the drama of dealing with an issue.
These seemingly small little violations of our integrity cause us to try to justify ourselves—often without even realizing it, we see our spouse in a distorted way. If you’ve ever looked in some of those funny mirrors at an amusement park that make you look really long and stretched out, or really wide then you can imagine what I mean. Your body hasn’t changed at all, but the way you see it looks distorted. The same thing happens when we betray ourselves, it distorts our vision of our spouse.
When we are in this space of self-deception it feels very real, very true just like we can actually SEE our distorted image in the crazy mirror and just like my Dad’s cataract literally created a more yellowish hue. He did in fact see that color. Our self-deception creates a very real filter on how we see our spouse.
When we have this filter—all the communication skills and kind actions in the world will be ineffective if we continue to see our spouse as a villain. To create real and lasting change in marriage, we must remove the filter.
Solution: Remove the Filter
What doesn’t work:
Before we address what does work to remove the filter. Let me first quickly cover what doesn’t work to remove it.
*Trying to change the other person
We sometimes mistakenly believe that if we can get the other person to change, we will stop feeling and acting in the way that we are. This businessman thought that if his wife would get up and be more responsive to the baby, he wouldn’t have to feel guilty. But the truth is that trying to change others from a place of distortion usually leads to conflict. When people feel blamed, especially unfairly they usually resist changing. And, even if they do change, they often feel resentful and we feel a bit guilty—both of which create more distorting filters.
-Imagine the businessman trying to get his wife to be more responsive at getting up. She’s not likely to be very receptive to his request if he approaches it from a place of blame. He even if she does wake up it will reinforce his distorted perception of himself as justified in not helping out.
*Coping or Communication Skills
-Many amazing books and practicioners teach communication skills and other tools for relationships. But not matter how effective these tools are, if there is blame and distortion driving them, the tools are not likely to be effective. In fact, the tools simply serve to create a more sophisticated way to blame.
Even if the businessman uses I feel statements and empathetic listening, his wife will be able to feel how he blames her and how he sees her as problem.
-We may think that ignoring the situation, or leaving it will help. But the truth is that we take our brains and our values with us. We’ll continue to see ourselves and our spouse in a distorted way if we don’t address it.
*Don’t make white knuckled change to self
We may assume that the best way to get out of this distortion is to change what we do.
For example this businessman should get up and help the baby. And that may have helped prevent the distorted vision in the first place, once we have the distorted vision, things are a bit more complicated. If he gets up to help the baby believing that he’s justified in not getting gup and his wife is lazy and deceptive he’s likely to continue blaming her and feeling resentful and act like a martyr.
As you can see once we see things through a distorted lens we’re a bit stuck.
Removing our distorted filters is not just a matter of what we need to do…it is a matter of how we choose to think.
Solution: Here is a three-step process to changing the way you see your spouse with new eyes.
1. Recognize you have a filter that affects how you see your spouse and also how you feel and act toward your spouse.
When my Dad first saw how much whiter colors were with the eye that had been operated on, he was surprised! He hadn’t even realized there was a filter over the way he saw color. That is often how it is with the way we see our spouses. We just assume the way we see them is the way they really are. Simply recognizing that as humans we create a distorted view of others without even realizing it is important. It can help us be more aware. I love to ask myself the question—“Is it possible I could be wrong about this?”
One of my clients was expressing irritation about how their spouse wanted to buy something that they disagreed with. The client explained that they were selfish, and stubborn. However, when I asked the client, “If your spouse were here, what would they say is the reason they want to buy it?” She thought for a moment. She said, “Well, probably to create memories with the kids and to make things fun.” So which one is true, I asked?
We often assume that we know how others feel or what they are thinking, but so often we don’t really know. We often assume the way we see things is accurate. Recognizing we may have a filter that distorts our view can be helpful awareness. Imagine how the businessman might have reacted differently if he had caught himself in the middle of his story creation and noticed the filter he was creating!
2. See your spouse as a person with all their needs and feelings and desires rather than thinking about them as an object.
In the book Leadership and Self-Deception by The Arbinger Institute, they give an example of a person who boarded an airplane. The flight attendant had announced there would be very few open seats. The person sat down and found the seat next to them was open. They placed their bag there hoping no one would sit down. When they noticed passengers walking by and eyeing the seat, they stretched their arms out wider with the newspaper. Eventually someone came by and inquired if they could sit there. The person agreed, but sighed and slowly moved their things communicating their disappointment to the other passenger.
In contrast, the book shares the example of a couple who checks in for a flight and discovers there are no open seats next to each other. A woman who was seated in the waiting area nearby heard the problem. She promptly stood up and interrupted. She said, “Excuse me, I heard you can’t find two seats together. I am traveling alone and the seat next to mine is open. I’d be happy to switch with you.”
In both cases there were airplanes with limited seats and people looking for seats. In both cases people ended up giving seats to other passengers. So what’s the difference here?
In one scenario the person saw others on the plane as less important than themselves. They were thinking about they needed and wanted and considered the other people’s needs a nuisance. In the other scenario, they saw others’ not as nuisance’s, as people with needs that were equally as important as their own.
This simple shift of thinking about others and their needs and wants as equally important and valid as our own allows us to “see” others differently.
I love the story I heard once in a budgeting seminar where the husband explained all the ways they could cut back on their grocery expenditures. The wife acknowledged what the husband said was true. She then described out stressful it was to shop with young kids and how it felt overwhelming to price compare while trying to keep young children content during shopping. As the husband listened, he said, I can see that. I want that for you too. Let’s set the budget high enough that you can buy what we need without having to stress out. That was a man who was willing to consider his wife as a person, not an obstacle to a goal.
I love to ask the question: “What is the other person feeling and thinking?” I think most people really do their best in most situations. And sometimes their best is TERRIBLE. And sometimes we don’t like their best. But recognizing that in any given situation based on someone’s emotional temperature, their skill set, their understanding and a variety of other factors they are doing their best, can often help to shift our perspective from irritation to compassion.
Imagine how the businessman in the example at the beginning of the podcast might have been able to shift his perspective and story if he had stopped thinking about himself and placing his own needs first and considered the needs of his wife and thought about them as equally important.
3. Acting in integrity
The third way to remove the distorted filter in the way we see our spouse, is to decide ahead of time to respond to those first promptings we feel to do good toward our spouse. I call this acting in intergrity.
I love the example John Gottman, a psychologist and marriage researcher, shares in one of his books of having a cozy evening where he was snuggled up and enjoying a mystery. He was at an exciting part when he got up to go to the bathroom. As he did, he saw his wife brushing her hair and looking sad. He had this inward moment of quandry. He could easily pretend he hadn’t seen her and go to the bathroom and quickly get back into bed to finish his book. She would be fine. He could always ask her later. Maybe it would be more productive later, anyway. But he knew his wife would appreciate the comfort and support now. He decided to go in. He sat down, picked up the brush and began brushing her hair. He asked her how she was and she shared about something difficult for her. It was a sweet connecting moment.
I love this story because it shows so clearly how our minds and emotions pull is in more than one direction. Choosing to act in alignment with our core values—especially in our relationship with our spouse allows us to feel more connected and eliminate unnecessary blame and distortion than comes when we don’t act on those first little inklings of desire to do good.
Imagine if the businessman had simply gotten up when he felt the urge the first time. He might have saved himself all the guilt, resentment, and justification that evening and more importantly, all the disconnection and frustration caused by the interactions that happened while he was viewing his wife through a distorted filter—thinking she was lazy, selfish, and thoughtless.
I love the question: Who do I want to be in this situation?
In summary, one of the biggest sources of conflict in marriage is that we see our spouse through a distorted lens. When we betray ourselves—or act out of alignment with the person we want to be—we have to justify ourselves in order to feel at peace. This means we have to justify why we didn’t need to do it and this process usually includes blame and shame which distorts our vision of ourselves and our spouse. Through our story of justification, we see our spouse not as THEY are, but as we are.
The three steps to removing the distorted filter of our spouse:
1. Recognize you may have a distorted filter you see your spouse through.
2. Shift the way you see your spouse. Instead of thinking of them as an obstacle or an object, think about them as a person and ask yourself what they might be thinking or feeling.
3.Act in integrity. Respond to those first inklings of desires to be kind and do good towards your spouse
Expat Exit Strategy
For those of you who are new here, the expat exit strategy is an opportunity to apply the tools from the episode to your life. In this case, it’s a chance to escape distorted vision of your spouse and see them more clearly. As we see them more clearly, we increase our connection to them.
Think of an incident with your spouse when they REALLY irritated you.
Get out a piece of paper and write down why you were irritated. Include your judgements of your spouse—get really petty.
Once you’ve done that ask yourself, “Is it possible I could be wrong about this?” If my spouse was here, how might they explain why they did what they did.
Write down how they might have been feeling or what they might have been thinking.
As you consider your spouse as a person with complex feelings, motivations, and thoughts rather than as an irritation, ask yourself if you could go back and do this over “Who do you want to be in this situation?” Write down how you’d like to feel towards your spouse and how you would act. I love this last question especially, because even if you can’t get to a cleaner place about how your spouse might be feeling and find compassion, we can usually access our better angels when we ask ourselves “Who do I want to be.” I love this exercise because it cab really help you remove some of the distortion in the way you see your spouse.
And, love grows in truth.
If you’d like more help shifting the way you see your spouse, or in navigating a difficult marriage sign-up for a free, 30 min. mini-coaching session on my website, The Expat Mom.com. Marriage is one of my favorite topics to coach on. I have seen so many clients find more peace and connection as they have been able to clean up the way they see their spouse and themselves. I don’t promise we can fix everything in 30 min., but we can certainly find some blind spots in that time that can allow you to feel more love in your marriage. I look forward to meeting you.