The Blind Spot
As the evening had been growing long, the gathering was winding down. Some couples had left but still many talked enthusiastically so that a chorus of voices filled the house. Michelle was chatting with a small group of her girlfriends. Her husband, Steve, approached the group having already grown tired of the get together. Without waiting for a gap between their words, he forcefully injected towards Michelle that he’d be sitting in the car. One friend’s face displayed obvious amazement. Another’s jaw fell agape. A third, Sarah, watched Steve, who didn’t wait for a response, turn and walk unthinkingly out the front door. The storm door slammed shut behind. She looked to Michelle and asked, “What was that about? Michelle responded in a nonchalant tone, “That’s just how he is. He’s ready to go,” suggesting that his abrupt social insensitivity is just normal. “Wow, that would drive me crazy,” Sara offered without hesitation. Michelle explained, “Yeah, a few people have said that to me. Steve doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with it. I’ve tried to explain it to him. He just doesn’t get it.” An ache surfaced in her heart.
We all know someone like Steve, and we all are, in some degree like Steve. Parts of ourselves, emotions and behavior patterns are expressed in automatic and unconscious ways. Their impact, consistently negatively, is felt most by our romantic partner, also by others in our social sphere but to a lesser degree. These are the behaviors, attitudes, personality nuances that drive our partners crazy. And just like Steve, such troublesome characteristics are not within awareness; they reside in the emotional blind spot. If asked about his social insensitivity, Steve would probably respond, “Michelle complains about it, but she doesn’t know what she is talking about,” or “People are too sensitive. Why don’t they focus on something really important like world hunger!” When a blind spot is threatened with vision, the defensive response includes denial or dismissal. Just like the dangerous spot behind a driver’s left shoulder which cannot be seen, this an emotional “place” into which it’s owner cannot see and thus to him or her does not exist.
Most of us have such a blind spot, and few of us are aware of it. Yet this blindness is a large obstacle preventing our love relationships from reaching a higher level. It is an area within our psyche and emotional world about which we don’t know that we don’t know. It is an area of complete blindness like an intense darkness that an ordinary flashlight will not penetrate. Unconsciously, we prevent ourselves from becoming aware of our own blind spot, but each one of us is clearly aware of others’. We are an expert about our romantic partner’s blind spot, whose behavior and attitude tempts us to judge and criticize. In reaction to a behavior that reveals another’s blindness it is easy to comment, “What were they thinking?” Holding back on judgement is wise, just as it is best that people who live in glass houses should not throw stones.
The variety of personal blindness all fall within the negative range; the ways we unknowingly negatively effect others. One wife, exasperated by her husband’s blindness, causing her to often feel invisible, put her socks in the kitchen silverware drawer as a test to see if he would notice the item that did not belong…but he did not. A husband complained to his wife that every time they come together she emphatically lists her frustrations and complaints, preventing him from having a pleasant conversation with her. She denied it upon being confronted. An oblivious husband leaves a trail of used items: dirty socks, empty drinking glasses, wet towels behind him after he leaves a room without regard for his wife who prefers an orderly house. A wife who regularly but unknowingly speaks too loudly, hurting her husband’s ears, despite years of requests for a lower voice. A girlfriend who has a pattern of being consistently late for every meeting. The boyfriend who unconsciously turns every conversation around to himself.
The behaviors that are performed without awareness are typically minor. If not for their repetitive pattern, creating a negative snow-balling effect, such unconscious behaviors would matter little. They represent an insensitivity to the social world, just like littering; it may not devastate the environment but unchecked, it contributes ugliness. No one is more influenced than the romantic partner, whose annoyance is likely to grow into resentment and peak in bitterness should cessation of blind behaviors not occur. Our blind spot behaviors unconsciously contribute to the gradual decline of passion in our relationships, providing an example of how so many loving connections die a death of a thousand tiny paper-cuts.
A romantic partner who tries to shine light into the other’s blind spot risks strong opposition formed of denial, dismissal, invalidation and possibly counter-attack, while coming away little success of change. Taking off the emotional blinders may be slow in arriving. To rid the blind spot of its blindness requires an emotional awakening. Ultimately each one of us has complete control of our actions and choices. We have the power to limit any behavior pattern we choose, but the momentum of habit and personality make many behavior changes unpalatable. Many only choose to change when circumstances force change. For individuals and partners who are ready, growing aware where previously blind empowers a soul with new eyes and a world of fresh possibilities. Andrew Aaron, LICSW