Loving Through Your Differences
An Interview with Author James L. Creighton, PhD
Couples fight. Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. Sometimes these fights provide comic relief. At other times they threaten the very survival of the relationship.
Psychologist and relationship consultant James Creighton wrote his new book Loving through Your Differences: Building Strong Relationships from Separate Realities to help reduce conflict between couples, especially those that are based on different perceptions or experiences of reality. The book’s primary aim is to empower couples with the knowledge and practical skills they need to choose to live happily and productively together, finding excitement and fulfillment, rather than disappointment and frustration, in their differences. We hope you’ll enjoy this interview with him about the book.
What inspired you to write Loving Through Your Differences?
My interest in couples’ conflict was originally rooted in my desire to handle conflict better in my own marriage. Then — having found some things that actually help — I wanted to pass on the good news. If I get too cocky, my own marriage gives me a reality check on how much I still need to figure out.
The subtitle of the book is, “Building Strong Relationships from Separate Realities.” What do you mean by separate realities?
If my wife and I go to a movie, I may find it fun and she may be bored to tears. It’s a fact that I had fun. It’s a fact that she was bored to tears. My reality is different than hers.
That seems small, unimportant. But the same thing happens when it comes to raising children, spending money, sex, and all kinds of things. Our separate realities shape how we think children should be disciplined, whether spending money is wise or wasteful, what having sex means, etc.
You say in the first chapter of the book that one of the most important things you have learned is that each of us has an emotional reality of our own. Tell us more about that please.
We each create our own emotional reality. We do this by attributing meaning, significance or value to the events in our lives.
A single event can have an entirely different meaning for many different people. Colin Kaepernick kneels during the national anthem. To some people that’s a courageous act. To other people it is insulting to the flag, verging on treasonous. Each person interprets Kaepernick’s action within the meaning that they themselves bring to the event. What something “means” is not just the result of the event, but also the meaning you bring to the event because of your background, experience, and thinking.
We make the mistake of assuming that the reality we experience is only "out there." When we have been hurt, we may feel this hurt very intensely. The intensity of emotion we experience seems like tangible "proof" that our partner's intentions were to injure us. It isn't easy to see that the way we experience the event is determined by our own inner emotional reality as much or more than the other person’s behavior.
The idea that we create our own emotional reality runs counter to most of what we experience. Most of the time we experience our emotions as being caused by external events. This is also reinforced by our culture. For example, songs with lyrics like, “you make me feel like dancing” reinforce the belief that other people or outside events cause our feelings.
The problem comes when we try to insist our friends and partners have the same reality we do. Some of the worst fights occur when people insist, “my reality is right” or “there’s something wrong with you that you don’t have the same reaction I do.”
You encourage couples to use their differences as teachers. Do you have any practical advice to offer for how we can begin to do that?
My whole book is my answer to that question. The starting point is to accept as a fact that people can experience the same event in very different ways. Accept as a fact that the other person's feelings make perfect sense within their emotional reality and this is okay. Once you accept this principle, almost everything follows. There are skills to communicate your reality without finding fault with other peoples’ realities. You’ll need to listen — with both your both your head and heart — even though you may continue to disagree. You’ll learn to identify behaviors that cause fights to escalate and how to set mutually acceptable rules to limit these behaviors. You can break an impasse by learning how to reframe the situation. You may even reframe your own life story. Get to know the different parts of your personality and get them talking to each other. Look for principles or new ways of perceiving reality that can contain both people's version of the truth. End struggles when you can agree on "our" truth.
You encourage couples to use a problem-solving process that says, “We have a problem,” not “You are the problem.” Please tell us more about that distinction.
Many couples try to solve problems by starting with the belief that their partner is their barrier to solving the problem. If he would just change I wouldn’t feel the way I do, and so on. The chances of finding a mutually acceptable solution will be very limited if both of you see the other person as an opposing side. If you can operate from “WE have a problem,” the range of alternatives you can consider will be greatly enlarged.
James L. Creighton, PhD, is the author of Loving through Your Differences and several other books. He has worked with couples and conducted communications training for nearly 50 years around the world. Visit him online at www.jameslcreighton.com.
Excerpted from the book Loving through Your Differences. Copyright ©2019 by James L. Creighton. Printed with permission from New World Library .