In my 15 years of seeing individuals and couples in therapy, I've heard just about every version of argument there is. Whether it's a blowup that started with the laundry not being folded or a walk out due to a direct insult, I've heard it all. I've found there's a common theme in all of these miscommunications: assuming. Once we get comfortable with someone and have been with them long enough, we naturally tend to figure out some of their patterns of thinking, behavior, and communication. Although this can be helpful in meeting their needs and being more efficient, assuming can also be devastating to relationships. What if you're wrong and you didn't stop to check? Then you might be responding to or arguing with a point that the other person never even imagined.It's also important to remember that we all come into relationships and arguments pre-loaded with our own baggage and insecurities. This means you're not just making assumptions based on your observations of your partner, but you're also seeing everything through your own biased filter. Ever heard the phrase "you see what you want to see"? Basically if you're convinced there's a way your partner (or perhaps people in general) talk or behave toward you, then ironically this is what you're likely to experience, whether it's objectively occurring or not. For example, if you believe that no one could ever truly love you because you yourself don't believe you're truly worthy of being loved, then you'll consciously or subconsciously always be looking for signs that those around you do not in fact love you. Even if you see 10 signs of love for every 1 wrong, you'll focus on the wrongdoing and dismiss the love. See how this could be dangerous in combination with our natural tendency to assume?Luckily I've had 15 years and plenty of training on how to thwart these negative patterns! I have four quick (but not easy) steps to avoid falling into the assumption trap:1) Check assumptions - The moment you find yourself assuming your partner is saying something hurtful toward or negative about you, ask before attacking! It also helps if you do this in a curious way (What did you mean when you said X?) versus defensive (So you're saying that I'm an idiot?). What if they had a perfectly harmless thought and just expressed it poorly? Good thing you checked!2) Lead with feelings - This is by far the hardest step because it requires the toughest thing to do in this world - being vulnerable. Leading with how their comment made you feel is far "weaker" position than lashing out and hurting them back. However, I struggle to think of a time when attacking back has ever led to positive resolution. Instead use a feeling to describe your reaction to their comment. If your partner truly cares about you, sharing how you're hurt is far more likely to get a loving response.3) Address hurt feelings - If your partner has done step 2 and expressed hurt feelings the last thing you want to do is argue feelings with facts. The temptation is to try and convince them why they shouldn't feel hurt and why you're not a bad person/partner, but all that does is serve to invalidate their reactive feeling. Instead accept that this is how they feel and address that feeling.4) Meta-communicate - This is a fancy term for communicating about communicating (Did I just blow your mind?). In other words, talk about where the miscommunication occurred and how. Discuss how you could have gotten the same point across without hurting the other person's feelings. If the communication went poorly, talk about how you can better handle a similar miscommunication in the future without it leading to a fight.There are many other communication skills, but these 4 will have you well on your way to avoiding assumptions. For more help fine-tuning your relationship communication, please reach out to a couples therapist near you. They are an invaluable resource and are there to help strengthen your relationship both in quality and longevity.
Several years ago, a little boy around 7 or 8 came to my door by himself. It was Halloween. He had no costume on and, more importantly, no bucket or bag! I opened the door and he timidly asked, “Trick or Treat?” I asked, “Friend, where is your bag??? You can’t trick or treat without a bag?! Hold on!” I quickly ran and brought back the biggest bag I could find and handed it to him. I then said, “When you go trick or treating, you have to expect greatness. Now, I want you to open your honkin’ bag and “Trick or Treat” as if all the candy in the world depended upon those three words.” He stood up tall and grinned from ear to ear and boldly said, “Trick or Treat!” while holding his bag open. My 2-piece candy rule went quickly out the window and I gave him 2-handfuls instead.When’s the last time you expected greatness? How long has it been since you were happy with yourself? In your job? In your relationship? How you parent? When is the last time you got excited to bake a pie or go for a swim? Life is hard, and situations can slam into us like a speeding car without brakes. Nevertheless, we need to find pockets where we expect greatness. Notice perfection is not mentioned. Expecting greatness is different than expecting to be perfect. Brené Brown says we should live life daring greatly. Sometimes all that can mean is just showing up. Being brave enough to get off the sidelines, step out and be vulnerable. Occasionally it means making the first move in a strained relationship. Saying “I’m sorry”, “I messed up”, or “Let’s try again.”Therapy is a great and safe place to learn new techniques in practicing bravery and vulnerability in your journey. You can express pain, fear, and hurt, while being heard, validated, and affirmed. Therapy can be the tool you use as you expect greatness in every area of your life. Brené Brown wrote, “The power of owning our stories, even the difficult ones, is that we get to write the ending.” I challenge you to own your story and expect greatness as you write and live your life.
Recently my family and I vacationed at the beach. I love the beach!! Granted, I’m underneath an umbrella, but regardless, I love the sound of the ocean roar, children squealing and laughing, and sea birds gawking. It’s a breath of fresh air from the echoes of honking horns and tires monotonously speeding along the interstate concrete. While everyone else slept in, I would get up and join the fellow runners and walkers on the beach. Running on the beach takes me to another place. A place of peace and serenity. A place of reassurance and total focus. A place where it is just me, myself, and I. The ocean is a dwelling where status and gender, relationship status, kids or no, and level of education do not matter. The radiant sun shines on everyone the same. To enjoy this natural bliss, the only thing that matters is that we show up. Isn’t that like life? Being present? Being open and available? Brené Brown, in Daring Greatly, writes that, “What we know matters, but who we are matters more. Being rather than knowing requires showing up and letting ourselves be seen…vulnerability.”While I can’t start every morning at the beach, I can bottle a little of it with me. I can start each day by showing up and being vulnerable with myself and with those whom I love. Where is your sweet space to just be you? Where can you go and be loved, affirmed, and supported not for what you know or what you do, but for who you are? Here are 3 challenges in making this happen:
- Find that space and place, and when you do, bottle it up and drink it every single day.
- Ask yourself if you can be vulnerable with the people in your life. Do you trust them and yourself to be vulnerable? If the answer is, “Yes”, then ask them to be your person.
- Find a therapist whom you can confide in and practice vulnerability along with learning ways in being more open and honest with yourself and with others.