The Both/And Perspective

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By Michaela Choy, AMFT

What is the both/and perspective? It’s the ability to hold seemingly opposing ideas or many concepts at once. It can feel unnatural to think this way. Our brains like a clear story (as Brené Brown discusses in her talk: The Call to Courage). We like to know what’s good or bad and what’s right or wrong (Restrepo, 2019). This creates a false sense of reality because it’s not the full story. Our human experiences are far more complex. In my work as a therapist, I’ve witnessed heartbreak in the same moment as deep connection, and I’ve seen moments of anger alongside compassion. It’s more accurate to hold the both/and perspective, and it’s far more connecting.

Think of areas in your life where the temptation to categorize in an either/or way come up for you. Some obvious examples are politics, friendships, and how we reflect on our days. If we disagree with someone’s political views, we are quick to categorize them as bad people when perhaps they are well-meaning people who have hard views (this is particularly challenging to shift into today). If you are hurt by a close friend, you may be quick to label them as careless and hurtful, when perhaps they did hurt you and are also a loving and loyal presence in your life. If you made a mistake at work and have a difficult day, you may characterize the day as disastrous. Consider, however, in the same day, good moments where your coworkers rallied around you, your boss showed compassion, and other moments where you had small successes. It’s more accurate to say you had a hard day AND good moments peppered into it.

If you find yourself using an either/or mindset, attempt to pause and challenge yourself. Is this person wholly evil? Was my day all bad? Shifting into the both/and perspective opens the door for connection, understanding, and compassion towards your experiences and people in your life. You can honor your true experience and make space for more information in the story.

Below are some areas I suggest practicing your both/and lens.

- Politics

- Holiday experiences

- Moments with family or friends

- Work days

- Reflection on past romantic partnerships

- Race (For all – especially multiracial people. See this talk for more perspective and information.)

- Gender (see the genderbread person for more information)


Resources:

Killerman, S. (2017). Breaking through the binary: gender explained using continuums. Retrieved from: https://www.genderbread.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Breaking-through-the-Binary-by-Sam-Killermann.pdf

Meraji, S., & Demby, G. (2017, June). Racial imposter syndrome. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2017/06/08/462395722/racial-impostor-syndrome-here-are-your-stories

Restrepo, Sandra. (2019). The Call to Courage. United States: Netflix

Using a Time Out

By Michaela Choy, AMFT

Conflict is an inevitable part of being in relationship. It can be productive, but it can also be hurtful. When conflict becomes reactive and explosive, we need to find ways of calming down in order to prevent further damage. During these times, our brains respond by initiating a fight, flight, or freeze response. When this gets activated, we are no longer in the conversation to connect and understand our partner, but we are attempting to survive and defend using any means possible. This is very dangerous territory for relationships. When this occurs, consider taking a time out (Fishbane, 2013).

To be effective, time outs must be used with intention. It’s recommended that couples discuss guidelines before using this tool. This helps partners develop a sense of safety during their time apart and know exactly what to expect. Here are some great guidelines to consider.

  1. Call a time out with tact. Saying that you need time apart with a hard tone, exaggerated volume, or nasty non-verbal cues will only make things worse. Take a deep breath and speak as calmly as possible. Some suggested phrases are:

    “Hey, I think I need some time to cool down before we talk about this more, let’s take a time out.”

    “I want to talk about this more, but I need a break. Let’s take a time out.”

  2. Agree upon the amount of time that you will spend apart. Research shows that when your emotions are escalated, it takes 20 minutes at minimum to cool off. Your time out should be no shorter than 20 minutes. 30 minutes is my recommendation to couples (Fishbane, 2013).

  3. Use time apart intentionally. If you use this time to ruminate on your anger and allow your hard feelings to grow, entering back into a conversation with your partner will cause damage. Take a walk, practice deep breathing, or find alternative ways of soothing yourself. Only when you are calm should you reengage.

  4. Decide who will initiate the conversation again. I recommend that the partner that calls the time out is the partner that initiates the conversation again.

Using this tool can help us reach a place where we can find connection during disagreements versus fighting with reactivity. When done well, you can increase your chances of resolving hard conversations without further hurting your partner.

Resources:

Fishbane, M. D. (2013). Loving with the Brain in Mind: Neurobiology and Couple Therapy (Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology). WW Norton & Company.

Five to One

I often find myself focusing on the theme of positivity with most of the clients I work with.  Early on in my training, I learned of John Gottman, a well-known professor who has devoted much of his life towards relational research, scientific direct observations and creating influential literature. 

Through Gottman’s research, he identified his “magic ratio” of positives VS negatives within a relationship.  Gottman states “as long as there are five times as many positive interactions between partners as there are negative, the relationship is likely to be stable”.  This really struck me, as it is very easy to get pulled down in negativity.  I also find that we operate from a platform of assumption.  For example, as I explore positivity and appreciation within relationships I often hear responses such as “he or she knows these things, I don’t need to say them out loud”.  Even a simple shift in directly expressing these ideas can create much positive change.

As I share this information with clients, I am encouraged and inspired to see dedicated commitment to the focus of positives.  So the next time you find your relationship or communication in a place of negativity remember the “magic ratio”.  Five to one!

For more information check out https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-positive-perspective-dr-gottmans-magic-ratio/