By Amy Berrafato, LMFT, CST
“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”
If you’ve ever been in a relationship with another human, you know that it doesn’t take much to miscommunicate. Trivial matters can be taken out of context, while major issues might be overlooked and minimized. I say one thing, and you interpret it wildly differently than what I intended. It’s infuriating!
Have you ever wondered what’s behind those missed messages? There are many layers in between the intent you began with and the impact it had on your partner. Your individual personality, your family background, and your current mood all influence how you interpret a simple conversation. In your relationships, you probably have many different definitions of what it means to be on time, clean, organized, sexual, forgiving, healthy, etc. because you are two different people operating from a different worldview.
To narrow the gap, let’s consider your assumptions about one another. Assumptions can be pretty dangerous if unchecked. Are they positive or negative? Where do they come from? Do you notice these in conversation? Pay attention here, because we assume and jump to conclusions all. the. time. Ask for clarification first. Write them down. Or at least ask yourself, “Why did I just think that about you? Let me try again.” See if it changes your perception of the situation at hand.
Our favorite marital researchers John and Julie Gottman discuss the importance of breaking down negative interactions to soften criticism and build positive regard for one another. For instance, when your partner forgets to do the thing they said they’d do, you could think “Wow, they never consider my needs. What an ass.” OR “Huh, I bet they had a rough day and just forgot.” The first is a character attack and the second chalks it up to external circumstances. The second is MUCH easier to live with. It leaves you with positive (maybe even hopeful?) energy toward your partner, rather than stacking up a mental list of why they’re so terrible.
How about a little grace for your loved ones? These good faith assumptions about others have a compassionate ripple effect on the people around you. Start the trend!