In her Ted Talk, 'How Changing Your Story Can Change Your Life', Lori Gottlieb reads out a letter.
I've been married for 10 years and things were good until a couple of years ago. That's when my husband stopped wanting to have sex as much, and now we barely have sex at all.
Well, last night I discovered that for the past few months, he's been secretly having long, late-night phone calls with a woman in his office.
I googled her, and she's gorgeous. I can't believe this is happening.
My father had an affair with a coworker when I was young and it broke our family apart.
Needless to say, I'm devastated.
If I stay in this marriage, I'll never be able to trust my husband again. But I don't want to put our kids through a divorce, stepmom situation, etc.
What should I do?"
After reading this letter, Gottlieb talks about how she as a therapist has to be very careful when she responds to these letters because we are all unreliable narrators of our own life.
She goes on to say,
"Look, I don't mean that we purposely mislead. Most of what people tell me is absolutely true, just from their current points of view. Depending on what they emphasize or minimize, what they leave in, what they leave out, what they see and what they want me to see, they tell their stories in a particular way."
Later on during the Ted Talk, Gottlieb reads another letter,
I need help with my wife. Lately, everything I do irritates her, even small things, like the noise I make when I chew.
At breakfast, I noticed that she even tries to secretly put extra milk in my granola so it won't be as crunchy.
I feel she became critical of me after my father died two years ago. I was very close with him, and her father left when she was young, so she couldn't relate to what I was going through.
There's a friend at work whose father died a few months ago, and who understands my grief.
I wish I could talk to my wife like I talk to my friend, but I feel like she barely tolerates me now.
How can I get my wife back?"
Gottlieb points out how it is the same story she read out earlier just narrated from another person's point of view.
While the first story was about a husband who's cheating, the second story was about a wife who could not understand his grief.
And interestingly both of these stories are about yearning for connection.
Gottlieb then asks, "What would happen if you looked at your story and wrote it from another person's point of view?"
Towards the end of her talk, Gottlieb talks about how some of us can be really invested in our 'stuckness' that we would rather wallow in our misery than take meaningful action to solve our problems.
"Instead of being authors of our own unhappiness, we get to shape these stories while we're still alive.
We get to be the hero and NOT the victim in our stories, we get to choose what goes on the page that lives in our minds and shapes our realities.
I tell them that life is about deciding which stories to listen to and which ones need an edit.
And it's worth the effort to go through a revision because there's nothing more important to the quality of our lives than the stories we tell ourselves about them."