How to See Your Partner
The Presumption of Basic Rightness: What Keeps You From Seeing Your Partner
Once I was having a political discussion with a friend who, completely exasperated, said to me, “Dave, what you’re saying just isn’t true. And you know it.” His perspective was so self-evident to him, so obviously right, that he couldn’t even accept my point of view as coming from a place of basic honesty.
This is the extraordinary power of what I call the presumption of basic rightness (PBR).
All humans have a PBR. We all go through the world seeing things through a certain set of eyes, interpreting our thoughts and feelings through our specific life experiences, and presuming that what we think and feel is “correct,” or “right.”
How Differences in Perspectives Are Seen as Character Flaws
I refer to this as a presumption rather than an assumption, because presumptions are so deep they are not conscious. We take our rightness for granted. We aren’t even conscious of how thoroughly and deeply we assume it. Moreover, we do not see it for what it is. We do not see our deeply held world views as world views, we see them as the truth.* This means that those who disagree with us are not simply coming from a different perspective, not simply wrong, it means they are rejecting or denying the truth. This is how mere differences in perspective between two people get inflated into character flaws.
It’s not just that each person believes they are right, it’s that we believe it so deeply we often cannot even grant that a person with a different view is even being honest.
Effect on Relationships
Relationships happen between two people who have different opinions, are formed by different experiences, who see through different sets of eyes. Each person carries this deep presumption of their own basic rightness. Each person’s opinion and perspective is so obviously right to them, so self-evidently clear and correct, that it can be hard to even grant that the other person’s opinions are coming from a sincere and honest place.
And yet, in an intimate relationship, if you cannot overcome this, if you cannot ultimately grant that your partner’s perspective is as obvious to them as yours is to you, if you cannot accept that, like you, they are simply trying to articulate what to them is obvious truth, then your relationship will always lack true connection.
How Your PBR Prevents Intimate Connection
True connection is found in each partner feeling seen by the other. When my friend said to me, “You know what you’re saying isn’t true,” I was deeply hurt. It’s one thing to disagree, but quite another to suggest that someone who disagrees with you is being intentionally dishonest. I felt misunderstood, misinterpreted, judged, and unseen.
You don’t have to believe what your partner believes or think what they think. But in an intimate relationship, you have to have to understand and learn how to deal appropriately with your PBR, so you can at least affirm that your partner’s perspective, like your own, comes from a place of honesty and sincerity. If you cannot do this, your partner will feel constantly invalidated, looked down on, and judged, and that is not a recipe for intimacy and connection.
Next post: How to deal with your PBR and improve your relationship.
*I wrote an entire book on this topic, which will hopefully be available in print sometime in the next year. Subscribe to this blog to be informed when the book is available.
[Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash]