The Power of Relationship Assumptions
We all make relationship assumptions. We assume what another person is feeling or thinking. We assume how that person is going to respond to us. We create a story in our heads about how others see us, how they judge us or whether they like or care about us. We make these assumptions all the time, but we don’t realize that they are assumptions. We treat them as absolute truth. We believe them without hesitation. We’re often wrong.
Many potentially enriching, supportive relationships have ended because one or both individuals made inaccurate assumptions about the other person and then acted on those assumptions. The assumptions created unnecessary conflicts or distance. The assumptions were false, but the resulting hurt was real.
Consider the following example:
Jack and Susan have been married 11 years. In the beginning they were both very happy with the relationship. They loved the other person and felt loved in return. Through the years, they experienced the common stressors of life: financial strains, death of a parent, children with behavior problems. They became consumed with work and child-rearing. They had little time for each other. The conflicts began.
Susan began to feel that Jack didn’t care about her. She noticed the hours he worked and his tendency to get lost in TV. Her hurt and feelings of rejection turned into anger. She voiced her complaints, trying to get him more involved, but it didn’t work. Jack just became more distant. He avoided talking to her. He shut down even more. Susan assumed that Jack had stopped loving her. Jack began to feel that Susan blamed him for all their problems. He hated the arguments because each one left him feeling more defective, confused and inadequate. He assumed that Susan saw him as an inadequate husband and father. The reality was that Susan didn’t see Jack as inadequate, she just missed him. She wanted him to love her and to want to spend time with her. Of course, Jack didn’t see this. And Jack hadn’t fallen out of love with Susan. In fact, her opinion of him was very important to him. He wanted her to see him as a good man. He didn’t distance because he didn’t care. He distanced because he couldn’t handle the thought that his wife considered him a failure. Of course, Susan didn’t see this.
Before Jack and Susan could see the truth, they had to entertain the possibility that their assumptions about the other one were inaccurate. They had to consider the possibility that they were wrong. Once they did, they were able to talk more calmly. They actually asked the other one what they were feeling and they listened. Jack talked about his desire for Susan to see him as a good man. Susan expressed, in a non-accusing way, that she just wanted more of Jack because she loved him so much. They began the process of healing.
Consider your relationships. Ask yourself if you might be making false assumptions about the other person. What if you are? What if you are hurting a relationship because of an untrue assumption? Why don’t you calmly check it out? Ask them about the assumption and really listen to what they say. What do you have to lose?