Are Assumptions Damaging Your Relationship?
Assumptions are just as powerful as the facts if you choose to believe them. In fact, your assumptions could masquerade as “facts,” and you may make decisions based on little more than good guesses. This can be divisive and destructive in a relationship, with assumptions creating havoc between you and your spouse.
- She isn’t complaining, so everything must be fine in our relationship.
- He didn’t text or call about being late, so he must be at the bar.
- She is making us late again, so she’s trying to sabotage my parents’ anniversary dinner.
- He is being quiet, so I must have upset him, and he’s planning to leave.
Why are these classified as assumptions? She isn’t complaining because she feels you won’t hear her, and she is giving up. He didn’t notify you about being late because he’s in a meeting at work that has lasted longer than expected. She is picking up the cake for his parents’ anniversary dinner, which will save time, and they will arrive sooner rather than later at the party. He’s being quiet, not because of what she said, but because he is thinking about the needed car repairs and how he can get them done and still have transportation for them both.
You are most likely making assumptions if you believe you know what someone else thinks and feels without asking them.
Does your spouse say things like, “Don’t tell me what I think” or “Stop putting words in my mouth”? Do you use phrases like: “ I just have a feeling that…”, or “I can tell that…”, or It’s evident that…”. All of these indicate that you are assuming without asking and are in danger of sabotaging your relationship.
Why are Assumptions Harmful to My Relationship?
Assumptions Cause You to Close Down
You will stop being open and receptive to the other person. You will stop trying to connect and will not make the effort because you have defined the situation according to your perceptions and don’t need their input.
Assumptions Create Separation and Conflict
The other person may feel trapped and judged because we assume we know what they are thinking and why they do what they do. They feel they have lost their voice and are not given respect and validation in the relationship. It is only natural for them to engage in conflict to be heard or pull away from their partner altogether.
Your Assumptions Hurt You
Your partner can’t see your good side and may make assumptions about you. As a result, you may appear to them to be defensive and unkind, even though that is not your intention. The wall of assumptions that grows between you leaves you each feeling alienated and alone.
Why Do We Make Assumptions?
Like so many of our behaviors, assumptions can be an attempt to avoid emotional pain. If you can assume what others think and feel, you don’t have to risk being open and vulnerable. You block out any feedback that might be uncomfortable or painful, but you also block out love, affection, and emotional intimacy.
- Assuming that we understand what they said. Just because we think we know what they said doesn’t mean that we do! Our own emotional triggers, insecurities, and perceptions of the world could lead us to misinterpret what they actually said. This can lead to misunderstanding and conflict. We must take a deep breath, calm ourselves and respond calmly with something like, “I’m not sure that I understood you correctly. What I heard you say was…”.
- Assuming that we have communicated about responsibilities. Usually, this occurs when both spouses assume the other person was responsible for a task or chore. For example, you discussed declining an invitation to a party hosted by friends. You each assumed that the other would contact your friends and decline. Neither one of you did, and now your friends have hurt feelings, and you and your spouse are angry with each other. Put a system in place for the communication of tasks and responsibilities. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It could just be a list of what needs to be accomplished and when with the responsible person’s initials beside that duty.
- Assuming what your spouse likes and doesn’t like. It might be that you do know your spouse’s preferences. For example, you know how they like their coffee and that they want their steak medium-rare. But you didn’t realize that they have decided that they prefer iced coffee now and are avoiding red meat altogether. It doesn’t hurt to ask because even asking can show that you love them and want to please them. If everyone stayed the same and never evolved, it would be simple to know their likes and dislikes. But it would also be boring!
- Assuming their “motivators.” We can easily fall into the trap of assuming that we know the “why” behind our partner’s behaviors. Usually, we assume the worst about their intentions. “He’s just trying to get out of taking care of the kids this Saturday,” or “She’s doing this so that I’ll say ‘yes’ to going to her mom’s house on Sunday .”Resentment and misunderstanding grow with each assumption, and the wall of separation gets higher.
- Assuming they know what we want or need. We think they should know by now what we want or need, and we expect them to meet those wants and needs. When our expectations are not met, hurt and misunderstanding happen. Then, the assumption may be made that “They don’t love me or care about what I want.” Be assertive (not bossy) and communicate to your spouse what you need from them. They don’t know if you don’t tell them. By communicating clearly, you give them a chance to meet that need. Next, make sure that they have received the information. This can be done by using “mirroring,” a communication technique in which the listener repeats back everything that they heard the speaker say and then asks the question, “Did I get it?”. The speaker then confirms or clarifies.
It’s just human to make assumptions based on our perceptions, experiences, and the information that we do have. In relationships, however, things are not always as they seem, and what we think may not be true. Communicate with your spouse and ask for feedback, even when it seems redundant. It isn’t a waste of time. You will save the time that you would have spent in conflict and in repairing the damage caused by hurt feelings and wrong assumptions. If you need help in how to do this, marriage retreats, marriage conferences, or relationship counselors can help.