When it comes to communicating, perception is often reality. How one side views the other often shapes how they perceive the communications (verbal and non-verbal) that they have with that person. Let’s take John and Jane Doe for example:
In our first scenario, John and Jane Doe have been happily married for 10 years. Let’s say that John is responsible for half of the household bills and Jane is responsible for the other half and that both have kept their own separate banking accounts. John tends to be rather forgetful, but also refuses to sign up for auto-bill pay. One day, Jane comes home from work earlier than John and discovers the water has been cut off. Jane calls John on his way home from work. John forgot to pay the bill! But Jane realizes that John didn’t intend any harm to her, it was simply carelessness on John’s part. John gets the bill paid, the water gets turned back on, and everyone moves on with life.
Let’s say that John and Jane have now been divorced for 3 years, the divorce itself lasting 2 years. Their divorce was needlessly drawn out and painful, particularly over a custody battle of their 4 year old son. As part of their divorce, both parties agree to pay half of the child’s day care costs, rotating each week as to who makes the payment. In typical John behavior, he forgets to bring payment with him one week. When Jane picks up the son, day care tells her that if she doesn’t pay the full amount plus a late fee, they will give away the boy’s spot to the next child on their waiting list. Jane is FURIOUS! “John clearly did this on purpose. He doesn’t really care about our son, this is just a way of sticking me with one more bill that he should be paying.” She fires off several angry texts to John. John responds with a very dismissive tone, chalking this up to Jane just wanting to pick another fight with him. He tells her he’ll get her a check to her “later.”
In both instances, John simply forgot to pay a pretty important bill. Perhaps John really was trying to create havoc for Jane with the daycare. Or maybe he wanted to create a little drama and stress by not getting the water bill paid on time in the first example. The better bet, though, is that both were accidents by John, consistent with his conduct and character, but Jane’s perceptions of both instances were quite opposite because she now perceives John as an opponent rather than a partner. And now John perceives any message from Jane as belittling and her just looking for a fight. And these perceptions now become John and Jane’s new realities.
And this is all certainly quite understandable. A 2 year divorce will make most people’s better angels pack up and leave, sometimes for good. It’s a draining process and it is easy to lose sight of the other person’s real strengths and weaknesses. Anything forgotten becomes a slight. Any questionable tone is interpreted as hostile. Any choice of wording is given the most devious reading. This was not their perception during the marriage, in fact, quite the opposite was understood when things were forgotten, when tone missed its mark, when word choice was lacking.
Perception becomes reality. People take courses of action based upon their perception. Perception therefore is reality. The best way to tend to your reality is to tend to everyone’s perception of it.