You may have heard the parable about the blind men and the elephant. It a nut shell it goes like this:
There were once three blind men who stumbled upon an elephant. The first man happened by chance to grab a hold of the elephant’s trunk. “This creature that we have stumbled upon, said the first man, ” must be some strange kind of snake”.
The second man’s hands having landed upon the elephant’s leg exclaimed, “No this is not a snake at all. It is simply a tree trunk, nothing more, nothing less”.
The third blind man, having randomly settled his hands upon the elephant’s tail, countered, “No, you silly fools. This is not a snake or a tree trunk. What we most obviously have here is a rope.”
As we consider this parable, we can certainly understand how this disagreement occured, for each of the men have only their direct experience to go off of. Each man is doing his best to make sense of what his hands are telling him. He is trying to understand to the best of his ability what strange creature stands before him.
I like to keep this parable in mind when I am sitting with couple’s in my psychotherapy practice. For, it is not my job to point out that what they are touching is not a snake, is not a tree trunk, is not a rope. Rather I want to know, how it feels to be gripping that snake, trunk, or rope. Is it frightening? Confusing? And what do those feelings make him want to do? Do they make him want to run? Do they make him want to fight?
From here each client can come a deeper understanding of their own experience and impulses, and their partner can too. At that point it stops mattering who is right about the creature they have stumbled upon. The argument can stop, and compassion, clarity and understanding can begin.