It is very easy to absorb the quotes and myths of our popular culture. The quote “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” entered and became entrenched in our minds in 1970 with the release of the book and the movie Love Story. And somehow the line stuck. It has been repeated between lovers and partners many times.
If we buy into this quote and believe that love equals perfection, if we believe that individuals “in love” will never make a mistake, fight, or have disagreements, the results can be shattering when the perfect image of our relationship hits the pavement of reality. The truth is that every individual brings their own story, their own perceptions and experiences into their current relationship. There will be missteps, unkind words, and disagreements. There are three lenses that can be used to refocus conflict and upsetting situations—these lenses can help us move through the conflict rather than making the other person wrong and resorting to anger, frustration, and holding a grudge.
Taking the Long Lens—the first lens—in the middle of an argument requires that we step back and ask ourselves the importance of pushing the position on a particular issue. Can we “agree to disagree” and let it go? Will rehashing the discussion or proving this particular point be important in three months, six months, or a year?
The second lens—the Wide Lens—asks that we question how we can learn from this situation. Where can we take responsibility? What lesson, or new way of speaking and acting, can we employ in the future to eliminate repeating this experience? Focusing on the lesson rather than staying upset supports the growth of communication in the relationship.
A Reverse Lens—the third lens—requires that we ask, “What is the other person in this conflict thinking or really trying to say, and how might they be right?” A Reverse Lens demands empathy and compassion. It asks that we consider what is going on with the other person that could cause them to respond or to act in this way. Compassion is the key ingredient for practicing the art of forgiveness. If our partner has done something that upsets us, we try putting ourselves in their shoes. What is going on in their life to cause them to make that choice? Choosing empathy over anger and being willing to have an authentic conversation will support the ability to forgive and create a new way to move forward in the relationship, despite the hurt. And most importantly, be willing to say “I am sorry.”
To employ these techniques in the moment requires practice. Start by reflecting on past situations. Think back to a recent conflict or upsetting situation you had with your partner, lover, or good friend. Rethink the situation through each lens, and see what can now shift for you. Can you use one of these lenses to forgive, to apologize, or to let go?
- Long Lens. As you reflect on this past situation, ask yourself now how important it was in the scheme of your life as a whole. So often we find ourselves pushing a point or trying to “win” an argument in the moment. Think ahead to a year from now and contemplate what is really important and meaningful to you about this relationship.
- Wide Lens. What did you learn from this disagreement or situation? Can you take 100 percent responsibility and think about how you could have handled it differently? Take the lesson, learn the lesson, and let the negative experience go.
- Reverse Lens. When you are thinking and reflecting on this past experience or conflict, consider what the other person may have been thinking. Were they feeling hurt, neglected, or unheard? Have they been going through a rough time and were feeling frustrated? Consider how you could have been more empathetic in the situation and turned toward forgiveness rather than anger.