Vantage Point

Posted on January 23, 2015


A few years back, the film Vantage Point told the story of an attempted assassination from the view point of different characters.  As the story unfolds, the viewer sees the same events multiple times, but from different views.  Each character’s perspective provides a different understanding of the events until the viewer gets the full picture of what happened.  As the film progresses, it also gives an insight into the reasons various characters behave the way they do.

This was not actually the first time I had seen the concept portrayed this way.  I remember a Jackson 5 cartoon[1], circa 1970, that largely did the same thing.  The brothers ran out of gas and each of the five brothers tells the story from a vantage point that portrays himself as the hero.  At the end, the viewer gets the whole picture which shows that each of the brothers was right, with regard to his own behavior, but not that of his brothers.

Why do I tell you this?  I am glad you asked that.  When a couple has a fight, there are always two realities, the husband’s reality and the wife’s reality.  Since most people don’t film their interactions, there is no concrete proof of what the facts were.  Even if there were, the facts are largely irrelevant.  My working assumption is that the things that each of us does and says makes sense within the context of our experience.  Believe it or not, this applies to your partner, even when you are in a fight.  What your partner did and said may have not been acceptable[2], healthy, or helpful, but there was a context in which it makes sense.

If your partner’s reaction makes no sense to you, maybe you need to look at the film from his or her vantage point.  What there’s no film?  Okay, you need to have your partner explain what happened as he or she experienced it.  At this point, the facts don’t matter.  What matters is to understand what happened from your partner’s perspective and to communicate that understanding.  You do this by summarizing what you heard.  You are not agreeing to the facts, just making sure that you understand your partner and that your partner feels understood.  Somewhere in that narrative, there should be some pieces which would make your partner’s reactions make sense.  Can you validate that?  You still are not agreeing to the facts, just that how your partner felt about the situation made sense from the perspective they had.

Now that your partner feels understood, you have created a space to offer the events as you saw them.  Hopefully, the empathy you have just shown your partner has defused emotions enough that he or she is able to hear you.  Again, this is not about sorting out the facts, but in understanding what was happening for each of you.  Understanding goes a long way.

[1] You didn’t know there was a Jackson 5 cartoon, did you?

[2] Let me be clear; abuse is never justified and never the victim’s fault.