Dear Dr. Jay,
My wife and I keep arguing about things that happen when we are together, but see so differently. How is it possible to experience the same exact thing while standing right beside someone and have such different versions?
This is probably one of the top reasons couples come to therapy. What the reader should know is this question was much longer and more detailed, involving whether or not some "flirting" was taking place. The reason is, simply, that the two people do not see the same thing. I cannot recall if it was the beginning of a joke or philosophy problem but there is a story of a doctor, lawyer, and mechanic all witnessing the same wreck. They all see something different. If I remember correctly the doctor goes to help and the lawyer sues him for malpractice thus driving up the cost of healthcare. Luckily, the mechanic has a large wrench and takes care of the attorney.
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Anyway, the steps the brain takes, in order, are these: Event, belief, emotion, and action. For example, let's say you and your wife walk into a restaurant where the waitress walks right up to you and says "Hi Bob! Come sit in my section!" Already, the possibility exists that you and she have witnessed two different events. To you, this is an old friend from high-school that dated your best friend. To her, the possibilities are far more diverse. Is this someone you dated? Is she flirting? Why don't I know her? Is this someone you over tip? Is this someone you, gosh forbid, are dating now? On and on we go.
Now, look at the above scenario, and then the brain order; In fact, write down the above order of event, belief, emotion, and action not only for this example but watch it take place this week. This is something we can control, yet it takes decent communication skills.
Man's Brain: Event - Deb, my buddy's old girlfriend, asks us to sit in her section; Belief - Deb wants us to sit in her section; Emotion - none; Action - look at menu.
Woman's Brain: Event - This little, skinny, thinks-she's-so-hot waitress is hitting on my man. my man; Belief - they dated, in fact, may be dating now. How can he bring me here and think I'm going to sit here like a fool? I'm no fool. I was a fool once before with that creep in college but never again! never! If he thinks I'm going to sit here and take this he's got another thing coming!; Emotion - Rage; Action - ask to borrow mechanic's wrench who's sitting next to you and club husband while looking at menu.
It is fine to see events differently.