You know what they say about assuming…. About it making an ass out of you and me? Well, it’s true. Not only can it make an ass out of you, but can seriously impede your ability to communicate, and can make an already struggling relationship more difficult. As a relationship therapist, I talk to clients on a daily basis about the dangers of making the assumption that you know what your partner is thinking or feeling.
This interaction from a recent session illustrates perfectly how easy it is to fall into the trap of assuming, as opposed to doing the hard thing and checking in with your partner about what’s happening for them….
Wife: “When I asked him if he wanted to spend the day together, he said I think I have a meeting but let me check my calendar. Of course, I knew what that meant, it meant that he had no interest in spending time with me and was just looking for an excuse to brush me off”
Therapist: “How did you know that this is how he felt?”
Wife: “Because he never wants to spend time with me, so of course he was trying to get out of it. I felt so embarrassed and rejected for even trying.”
Husband: “I can’t believe you thought that. I was so happy that you reached out to me, I really just needed to check my schedule. But then you started to give me the cold shoulder so I didn’t even bother to try to clear my schedule.
Therapist: “Is it possible [wife] that you had a fear that he didn’t want to spend time with you, so you made an assumption that when he said he needed to check his schedule he was really just looking for a way out?”
Wife: “I guess… it sounds like that’s what happened.”
Therapist: “And when you acted out on this assumption by giving him the cold shoulder, you pushed him away, which in turn continued to increase the distance between the two of you.”
The wife in this session was so afraid of being rejected by her husband that she allowed her fears to become reality. Instead of stopping and exploring if it was possible that he did want to spend time with her, she created a scenario that he didn’t really love her, was annoyed by the idea of having to spend time together, and was trying to avoid committing. It would have been so much more constructive for her to ask, “When you said that you needed to check your calendar before committing to spend time, I felt like you were trying to get out of it, and it made me feel horrible and embarrassed.” This would have opened up a dialog, an opportunity for the husband to be a source of support. Both partners would have learned something about each other’s inner worlds, and the wife would not have spent so much time feeling rejected and thus pushing her husband away. It’s easy to see how making assumptions, and then basing your actions on these assumptions, can cause confusion, frustration, and distance in any relationship.
When one hears themselves saying things like, “he always”, “she never”, “I just knew he didn’t…” and of course “I just assumed….” they have entered a dangerous and often destructive pattern of thinking. Especially in relationships where communication and connection have been difficult, assuming becomes the go-to, and replaces asking questions and expressing feelings.
What to do?
Catching oneself assuming, and breaking this habit, takes time and effort. It takes slowing down the thought process enough to be able to ask, “Do I have proof that this is how he feels?” If the answer to this question is ‘no,’ then it is time to be courageous and ask the question. Tell the partner about the fears and negative feelings that are driving the assumption. Maybe the assumption has historically been true, but offering one’s partner the opportunity to change is the only way struggling relationships can truly grow closer. It is scary to be vulnerable, to put one’s thoughts and feelings so openly out to their partner. My guess is if assuming is a problem in a relationship, there has been an issue with communication (and therefore closeness) for a long time. The only way to a better relationship is to take chances, and to allow oneself to be vulnerable. It may also be that these negative assumptions are correct, in which case finding out how the other person is really feeling can offer the evidence needed to choose the right path for the relationship… either together or apart.
This article and the information herein are for educational and informational purposes only. It is not meant as a substitute for professional psychological or therapeutic services. The self-help information provided by this blog are solely the opinion of the bloggers and should not be considered as a form of therapy, advice, direction, diagnosis, or treatment of any kind. Instead, the information is designed to be used in conjunction with ongoing treatment provided by a mental health professional. Use the information in this blog at your own risk. All of the information is provided “as-is,” with no warranties of any kind, express or implied.