Assumptions sabotage relationships. As therapist Ashley Thorn, LMFT, noted in our previous piece on the topic, “you’re basically deciding a thought you’re having is ‘fact’ when you don’t have all the information.” This can lead to poor decision-making.
Assumptions also ensure that our partners don’t get to share their story. As a result, they might feel undervalued and unheard. In the earlier article, Thorn shared five damaging assumptions — everything from “If you love me, you’ll know what I’m thinking,” to “you should put me first.” This month we asked different relationship experts to share other assumptions, along with what to do instead and how to dismantle our assumptions.
1. “You think the way I do.”
It’s natural and normal to assume that our partners process information the way we do, said Kathy Nickerson, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist who specializes in relationships in Orange County, Calif. But that’s rarely the case.
“Just like you can go to a movie with a dear friend and come out with two very different takeaways, you and your spouse will interpret an incident or a comment very differently,” she said.
That’s because each of us processes information through different “filters” in our brains, which give some pieces of data more value than others, she said. The key is to be aware of these differences, and remember to respect them.
2. “If you don’t think the way I do, you’re clearly wrong.”
“We assume that our perspective is obvious and the ‘right’ way to think,” Nickerson said. But, as she mentioned above, each of us has our own filters. No filter is flawless or error-free. “All filters have strengths and weaknesses.”
She stressed the importance of not assuming your conclusions and way of thinking are irrefutable facts. Also, “avoid defaulting to ‘Oh my gosh, they are crazy if they think that!’” Not only is that rarely the case, but it’s also not a helpful attitude to have for resolving conflict or building a happy relationship, she said.
Plus, “rarely do we have a situation where we are presented with clear, undisputed evidence. So instead, really push yourself to try to see a variety of perspectives, especially your partner’s.” Try to understand a portion of their thinking or logic; try to look for “our way” (rather than a “right” or “wrong” way), she said.
3. “You don’t care about me.”
We also may assume that our partner’s silence indicates indifference. However, it’s often the opposite, according to Jazmin Moral, LCSW-C, a psychotherapist who specializes in working with couples in Rockville, Md. Instead, our partners might be trying to keep the peace and protect the relationship, she said.
They also might “be hurt, feeling like they can’t win so [they] might as well stay quiet.” They might be emotionally overwhelmed, and thereby shut down. They might be waiting for you to comfort them, but they don’t explicitly request this, Moral said.
She stressed the importance of couples clearly communicating their feelings. If you need something, tell your partner. For instance, according to Moral, one partner might say: “I’m really hurt and just need to know that you are there for me/ or need a hug/ or need to talk about it.” The other partner might say: “I can’t tell if you want me to leave you alone. I want you to know that I’m on your side and whatever you need I’m here.”
Dismantling Your Assumptions
According to Nickerson, look for anything you might be assuming, and ask: “Is there evidence to support this conclusion?” Then challenge yourself to find contrary data, she said.
If you’re interpreting events through a negative perspective, consider if there’s another interpretation. “Let’s assume he or she had good intentions, how could I explain this situation differently? Could this be an accident? Does this have to mean what I think it means?” Nickerson said.
Look for neutral and positive interpretations. She shared this example: Your spouse takes the laundry out of the dryer but doesn’t bring it upstairs. You conclude, “Oh jeez, see, he never does anything, he just doesn’t care and thinks I am his maid.” That’s a negative perspective.
A neutral way of looking at this situation would be: “OK, not great that he forgot this, but at least he took the initiative to get the clothes out of the dryer.” A positive interpretation is: “Oh yeah, I asked him to grab the baby from me when he was walking upstairs; he must have forgotten all about this.”
Again, it’s also important to have vulnerable conversations as a couple, Moral said. Share how you’re feeling. Before assuming the worst, give your partner the opportunity to clarify any miscommunication or to explain their thoughts and feelings, she said.
“We usually feel hurt first and then angry. But when our partner only sees our anger (directed at them) they will most likely react defensively and communication breaks down.”
Assumptions can damage our connection with our partner. They can lead to all sorts of misunderstandings, frustration, resentment and conflict. Thankfully, you can minimize assumption-making by keeping an open mind, and having honest conversations with your partner.
Couple thinking photo available from Shutterstock