Binocular Vision in Love

It takes two perspectives to perceive dynamics and depth perception.

Posted Oct 07, 2020

Binocular vision is the ability of partners in love relationships to hold each other’s perspective alongside their own. It’s the ability of partners to see themselves through each other’s eyes, to perceive how their partners are perceiving them. 

Like optical binoculars, relationship binocular vision enables the perception of depth and dynamics.

Depth perception is seeing beneath surface reactivity to the deeper emotions motivating behavior. Dynamics are what both parties are doing in an exchange, and the patterns their interactions form in the relationship.

Binocular vision isn’t easy when emotionally aroused. Strong emotions carry projections. They make us temporarily narcissistic, unable to see any perspective that doesn’t match our projections.

Dynamics are almost impossible to perceive when emotionally aroused, when the ability to objectively analyze one’s own behavior is dormant. That’s why we’re likely to remember the worst thing our partners say or do in an argument, but not remember what we said or did immediately before it. Memory evolved to record injury suffered, not injury inflicted. 

The keyword in binocular vision is alongside. It’s not giving up one’s perspective. It’s not losing something, it’s gaining valuable information. The goal is reconciling both perspectives for effective teamwork

Never trust your own perspective to give an accurate picture of a given interaction or of your relationship as a whole, if you can’t see your partner’s perspective. Even if factually correct, one perspective is incomplete. The reality of any interaction and of the relationship as a whole is both perspectives together. 

Monocular Vision

A remarkable function of the prefrontal cortex is theory of mind, which enables perspective-taking. This is so important to safety and well-being that when we cannot see the perspective of someone with whom we’re interacting or about whom we’re thinking, the brain guesses, based on how we feel at the moment. 

If you feel good and are unable to see your partner’s perspective, the guess will be positive. But if you feel negative, the guess will be negative; you’ll assume the worst about your partner’s intentions. 

The guesses of monocular vision are self-validating. If I feel bad, you must be doing something wrong. If I’m anxious, you must be threatening; if I’m angry, you must be passive-aggressive. Of course, my partner will resent the guesses of monocular vision. At the very least, she’ll feel invalidated. 

Below are examples of the difference between monocular vision guessing and binocular vision depth and dynamics.

  • Monocular vision: I feel frustrated. My partner doesn’t get it, doesn’t care, is too selfish, stupid, or crazy.
  • Binocular vision: I feel frustrated. My partner feels frustrated, too. I’ll be more compassionate.
  • Monocular vision: I feel controlled. My partner’s a control-freak, abusive, a psychopath
  • Binocular vision: I feel controlled. My partner feels anxious or out of control. I’ll try to lower the emotional intensity and be reassuring.

Monocular vision increases resentment. Binocular vision gives both partners a chance to show compassion. 

Different Core Vulnerabilities

A major barrier to binocular vision is different core vulnerabilities. A core vulnerability is the emotional state most painful to an individual, prompting the strongest and most automatic defenses.

We see the world through the lens of our core vulnerabilities and our defenses against them, making it hard to see partners as complex persons, independent of our projections.  

In the most commonly occurring conflict of core vulnerabilities, one partner is especially vulnerable to fear, anxiety, and worry while the other is especially vulnerable to shame or dread of failure. 

The defenses against core vulnerabilities are so strong that they’re rarely experienced consciously. Instead, shame is experienced as feeling trapped, irritable, impatient, restless, distracted, stress about failure as provider, protector, lover, or emotionally shut-down. Fear is experienced as nervousness or worry, particularly about isolation, deprivation, harm, or health.

The primary defenses against shame are anger and withdrawal, avoid or attack. The primary fear- defense is connection – there’s strength in numbers. Even negative connection is better than no connection. But if connection is rejected or dangerous, the defenses are hyper-vigilance, anger, or resentment.

  • Monocular fear: I feel afraid, isolated, deprived. My partner is threatening, cold, narcissistic, abusive. 
  • Monocular shame: I feel trapped, nagged, disrespected. My partner’s demanding, controlling, selfish, needy, personality-disordered.  
  • Binocular fear: I feel afraid, isolated, deprived. My partner is feeling shame or trying to avoid it. 
  • Binocular shame: I feel trapped, nagged, disrespected. My partner’s afraid or anxious. I'll try to be compassionate, reassuring. 

Monocular vision demonizes partners, prompting anger, resentment, contempt, and likely reciprocation. Binocular vision humanizes partners, prompting compassion and likely reciprocation. 

Blind Spots

Blind spots are what we do, without awareness, in the course of interactions. They include facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, as well as subtle dismissive behaviors, such as sighing, head-shaking, eye-rolling. In emotional interactions, we all have blind spots about our own behavior. 

It’s imperative to identify blind spots, own them, without being defensive, and adjust behavior to compensate for them. Use your partner’s reactions as rear and side-view mirrors. If it feels like your partner’s attacking, ask yourself…

“Am I devaluing or disrespecting, at least in my head?” (If it’s in your head, you’ll communicate it with body language, facial expressions, or subtle gestures.)

If you believe your partner’s acting selfishly, ask yourself…

“Am I being selfish at this moment?”

“What would be best for both of us?”

If it feels like your partner’s acting superior or disrespectful, ask yourself…

“Am I being respectful and open to my partner’s perspective?”

If it feels like your partner’s devoid of compassion and caring, ask yourself… 

“Am I compassionate and caring at this moment?”

When you think your partner’s acting like a jerk, blind-spot questions are especially crucial. If we react to a jerk like a jerk, what does that make us?