In my work with families and couples, I experience most people communicating in parallel monologues. Neither person is able to absorb, digest or really appreciate a point of view that is opposite of their own. Both people are so filled up with their own thoughts and feelings there is simply no room for anything else. It is really easy for me to sit on the outside, observe the parallel monologues and see the merit of both points of view. The art of my work is to convince them that there is merit to both points of view.

We have devolved into a culture where everything is win/lose or right/wrong. Many young adults, teens and parents “crush” a point of view different from their own with explosiveness, defensiveness, shouting or by silence. It’s as if we believe, that deep down, if you love me we agree. It has happened in politics also, so we are very polarized in America with the result that not enough can be accomplished. I was at a dinner party sitting next to someone in state politics. He mourned the days of “honorable disagreement” that are lost. He talked about the old days where Democrats and Republicans rented living space together in Harrisburg, they would play ball and have meals together. None of these things happens anymore. Why is it that we can’t appreciate there is merit to all points of view?

It’s as if there is only room for one point of view. I call this hierarchical thinking and show couples with my hands……so one hand is “top dog” and erases the other. Somebody has to win. Somebody has to cave. 

In couples, there has to be room for differences. The differences have to be able to sit next to each other. I show couples my hands in opposite positions sitting next to each other. Respect for differences is the ony way to have a long-term healthy relationship. Dialogue is very rare; it gives both people room to breathe and no one is backed into a corner. Dialogue lets the differences sit next to each other. Dialogue creates opportunity for understanding the differences. For example, a husband may be upset his wife won’t make a business decision, but if he leaves with a new understanding about how her integrity gets in the way of that decision then he has more respect for her point of view. Dialogue means we can learn new ways to think about each other. Monologues are about being trapped in the same old interactions, spinning around the hamster wheel going nowhere. Dialogue leaves room for values collisions with people we love. Values collisions are ordinary. It’s really important to me not to use plastic bags. It’s really irrelevant to you. These two differences have to sit next to each other if you want to make it for the long haul. So I have to accept you when you keep forgetting to use reusable cloth bags and you  have to try harder to use them sometimes. Only then will we pull off the ability to go on living together by learning to respect differences.

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About the Rhoda Mills Sommer

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