Each of us makes assumptions in our relationships. These assumptions might originate from outside sources, like the media and our family and friends, which “have been taken out of context, misread or blown out of proportion,” said Ashley Thorn, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Salt Lake City, Utah.
These assumptions also might arise from not directly discussing our thoughts and feelings with our partners, asking enough questions or listening to them, she said.
Assumptions take a serious toll on relationships. “[Y]ou’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, she explained.
Assumptions also don’t let partners share their side. Assumptions leave people feeling undervalued and unheard, said Thorn, who works with individuals, couples and families to help them improve their relationships.
Below, Thorn revealed five common assumptions many of us make, along with insights into dismantling these damaging beliefs.
1. “If you love me, you’ll know what I’m thinking.”
One of the biggest assumptions we make is twofold: We believe our partners can read our minds. If they can’t, then we believe they must not love or care about us, Thorn said.
“We often assume that we’ve communicated thoughts, feelings, needs, desires, etc., effectively, when most of the time we really haven’t,” she said. Instead, we give hints and use blaming.
Or if we’ve communicated something directly to our partner, we assume that talking about it once is enough, she said. We assume our partner “understood the full range of our thoughts.”
Thorn likened this to having someone take a test without teaching them or giving them instructions and making how they feel about you conditional on their passing.
We also equate mind-reading with romance. In other words, “the only way to feel romance in our relationships is if our partner guesses correctly.” However, the best approach is to be specific and clear about what we think, feel, want and expect, Thorn said.
Instead of getting mad at your spouse for not making your birthday special, communicate in advance what a special celebration looks like for you. As Thorn explained, if your partner listens and tries his or her best, that’s a deeper kind of romance.
2. “We’d be happier if our sex life was better.”
“Much of the media and entertainment we see or listen to today has become very sexualized, and gives off the impression that sex should be the center of our relationships,” Thorn said. It also implies that having a satisfying sex life is simple. While sexual intimacy is important for healthy relationships, it’s rarely the primary problem. “Most of the time, a dissatisfying sex life is simply a symptom of a larger problem.”
This larger problem may be a lack of trust or emotional attachment. Even when there’s a medical or addiction issue or a lack of knowledge about sex, there are still deeper implications, she said.
Blaming your sex life only leads to more pressure about sex and creates more distance and hurt, Thorn said. If you think sex is your only issue, talk about why and explore other issues beyond the bedroom, she said.
3. “If you’d just do X or Y, everything would work out.”
We make this kind of assumption when we’re more focused on our own pain and proving that we’re right, Thorn said. Of course, it’s much easier to point fingers instead of turning inward and examining our contribution.
This assumption keeps couples stuck. It stops partners from listening to each other and realizing that each person might have valid points, Thorn said. She encouraged readers to try understanding your partner’s viewpoint.
“You don’t have to agree with it or give up your own perspective, but you do have to make room for validation and compromise, if you want to create positive change in your relationship.”
4. “You should put me first.”
With this assumption, there’s an implicit expectation that our partner must make us happy. We define love as our partner sacrificing for us, Thorn said. While it’s important to make partners a high priority, it’s impossible and unrealistic to put one person first all the time, she said.
“Sometimes our children might have more demanding needs than our spouse for a time; other times we may need to put ourselves first in order to recharge and have anything left to give anyone else.”
The key is to view your relationship as a partnership. Think of it as a “team where everyone is equally valued and recognizes that different people and needs have to come first at different times.”
If you do feel neglected, talk about it and work together to find a balance, she said.
5. “We should be able to figure this out already.”
According to Thorn, many couples assume that everyone has a perfect relationship – except them. They assume they need to keep struggling until they figure out the secret everyone else knows.
“This is complete fantasy.” Instead, Thorn encouraged couples to seek help if you’re having a hard time working through your issues. Seeking help is healthy. Relationships are complex. They take work to make them work.
What isn’t healthy, she said, is berating yourselves and being stuck in the same negative cycle.
“Instead, try reaching out to trusted family members or friends, take a relationship class, read a book about relationships together, or seek out a relationship counselor.”
Dismantling Your Assumptions
If you’re interpreting your assumptions as facts, how do you even know they’re assumptions in the first place?
Thorn stressed the importance of listening. Listen to the language you’re using, she said. “On numerous occasions I have had clients actually start their sentences with ‘I assumed,’ but not in a self-realizing way, but more like it is completely justifiable and valid to assume.”
According to Thorn, assuming is rarely justifiable or valid.
Secondly, listen to your emotions. “Anytime you’re feeling hurt, rejected, neglected, or just feeling the need to lash out at your partner, chances are you’re probably assuming something,” she said. Negative emotions are a signal to explore a situation further.
Also, listen to your partner. If they’re telling you they feel misunderstood, consider if you’ve made any assumptions, Thorn said. If you can’t be 100 percent sure about something, ask your partner about it, she said.
Assumptions sabotage our happiness and chip away at our connection with our partner.
“If you live your relationship based on assumptions, you’re never going to feel fully happy or satisfied, because assumptions leave no room for change, growth or negotiation,” Thorn said.
“Assuming is a form of passiveness; it doesn’t require any real effort or action, which are both vital to keeping relationships moving in a positive direction.”