In psychology there is a term, “whole object relations,” which refers to the ability to form a comprehensive view of oneself or another. To have whole object relations means one has a realistic and integrative perspective that includes both positive or negative, liked or disliked, strengths or weaknesses, etc. It’s necessary that we develop whole object relations in order to have healthy relationships — to see the big picture and not classify each other as all good or all bad.
In life we will encounter aspects of ourselves or others that we’d rather not see or accept. It’s tempting to respond with absolute rejection. For example, think of political issues. People hastily cut loved ones out of their lives because they cannot handle having discordant positions. One person suddenly forgets all they loved about another, and constructs a new image of that person with sweeping assumptions and falsehoods. No one benefits in such a scenario. The potential for growth through healthy dialogue is squashed and all the other wonderful areas of the relationship that could be of service to the good are discarded. We end up “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”
When facing incompatibility with a friend or loved one, when challenged to compassionately hold the tension of differences, I aim to practice the following three things (albeit imperfectly):
One, engage with mutual respect in an effort to understand. This doesn’t mean we’ll agree, rather we can mutually consider what the other has to say with a commitment to civility and courteousness. If these boundaries cannot be maintained then I put the topic on the shelf and acknowledge that there will be no useful movement at this time.
Two, give the benefit of the doubt and forgive what I do not yet understand. This includes realizing that each person has their own life experience within which they interpret the world. There is so much beneath the surface we don’t know about ourselves or others that shapes perception and reaction. While I may not be able to grasp how another could arrive at a certain viewpoint, I can recognize that they reached their stance by that which has formed them, just as I have reached my own.
Three, remember what I do know about the other person. This means taking a whole object relations inventory of my experience of them. What’s their essence? How do they live? Upon what do we agree? Where have they demonstrated a consistent goodness I can trust? Assuming the relationship is more favorable than not, I can lean into what I know to be true of their heart and let the rest sort itself out in time.
We’re all complex and fluid works in progress. Let’s not make the mistake of casting out a meaningful relationship over the pieces that stretch us.
May you be inspired!