Everyone makes assumptions in romantic relationships. And these assumptions can get us into trouble. That’s because we create explanations for another person’s behavior without knowing if that interpretation is actually correct. And often it isn’t. We also hold certain expectations that we assume are facts. But, again, they’re not either.
In our previous pieces, we shared a variety of erroneous assumptions partners make — everything from “If you love me, you’ll know what I’m thinking” to “If you’re quiet, you don’t care.” Below are three more assumptions to let go.
1. “I’m hurt, so it must be because of you.”
We commonly assume that if we’re feeling hurt or upset, and it’s related to our partner, then it must be their fault. They must’ve caused our pain, according to Keith Miller, LICSW, the director of a large Washington D.C. psychotherapy practice specializing in relationships and author of Love Under Repair: How to Save Your Marriage and Survive Couples Therapy.
Miller shared this example: A wife gets a text from her husband about having to travel overseas for work. Immediately she starts feeling overwhelmed because she’ll have to take care of the kids while trying to manage her demanding work schedule. She keeps thinking: “Why am I expected to drop everything and pick up the pieces when he needs to disappear?”
She also starts making these other assumptions: “He doesn’t care about me. His work is more important than I am to him.” In other words, she assumes that her husband has directly caused her pain. However, when the wife delves deeper, she realizes that what she’s really feeling is sadness and disappointment. She’s never expressed how lonely she feels when her husband is away and how difficult it is to be without him.
Instead of assuming that your partner has caused your pain or upset feelings, examine what you’re really feeling. Then reveal your real feelings to your partner. Talk about it.
2. “Things will go poorly.”
When couples are going through a rough patch, it’s common for partners to assume the worst, said Kathy Nickerson, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist who specializes in relationships in Orange County, Calif. We “assume we’re just going to get hurt again…so we might as well just take the gloves off and fight dirty.” This only makes things worse. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, which leads things to go poorly.
Instead, Nickerson stressed the importance of taking a softer approach. She asks her clients to think of their spouses as hurt kids doing the best they can to cope. She’ll ask them: “Would you talk to a kid who just fell off his bike that way?”
“Your spouse is supposed to feel safe and comfortable with you, even during a difficult time, so try to be compassionate and kind.” Be gentle, and think about their feelings. All of us have pain, and we’re doing the best we can, she said.
Also, reflect on whether you’re viewing your partner and their behavior through a negative lens. If you are, Nickerson, said, you’ll interpret a neutral event, such as your spouse leaving you with an empty gas tank, as a personal attack. You might think: “Oh of course she brought it back with no gas, she doesn’t care that now I am going to be late for work or that I’m going to miss my class; it’s her world, I just live in it!”
If you’re not sure whether you’re in a negative headspace, Nickerson suggested keeping a tally. Divide a piece of paper into two columns: one for positive thoughts and one for negative thoughts. After each thought, make a check mark in the appropriate column. According to Nickerson, you’ll probably only need to do this for a few minutes. If you have more negative thoughts than positive thoughts, reflect on what you’re grateful for. Then do the exercise, again. “Gratitude dissolves negative thinking (at least for a little while).”
3. “You’re supposed to comfort me whenever I need it.”
According to Miller, this assumption comes from our initial attachment to our partners. That’s when “we project that ‘this is the perfect person to take care of me’ during the romantic phase of literally getting high on love hormones in our bloodstream.”
However, over-relying on your partner can become a major source of tension, he said. A better approach is to work on soothing your stress and anxiety on your own, part of the time. This “provides a healthy balance of autonomy and attachment.” Before you ask your partner to meet your emotional needs, Miller said, ask yourself, “how am I taking care of these needs?”
Reflect regularly on the assumptions you might be making in your relationship. Then work on relinquishing them. A powerful way is to have honest, heart-to-heart conversations with your partner. Reveal your real feelings, and ask them to do the same.
Couple in conflict photo available from Shutterstock