Thursday, October 1, 2009

Healthy marriage characteristic #7

Each consistently checks out their assumptions before acting on them.

Making assumptions in the process of communicating with others is inevitable. And the assumptions we make in everyday conversation are shaped and formed primarily as a result of the many experiences and relationships we have had throughout the course of our lives.

When our assumptions are correct, they serve us well; when they are incorrect (or when they are false assumptions as I will refer to them here), they can wreak havoc in our relationships with others.

As an example, suppose as a child you were constantly challenged by Mom and Dad (criticized, confronted and corrected on your behaviors or attitudes). And to show their displeasure of you, they would consistently withdraw, give you the silent treatment, and generally withhold their love from you for a period of time-perhaps to drive home their disappointment, and to get you to “shape up”.

Today in your current relationship, when you are challenged or in some way criticized, (a natural and inevitable thing from time to time in the best of relationships) you project on to your spouse the rejection and emotional withdrawal that came along with the criticism you received from your parents. As a result, in response to the criticism from your spouse, you react as if you were rejected and actually told you were no longer loved, when very likely, all that happened was that you were in some way challenged or maybe criticized by him/her.

Another example might further clarify the connection between past experiences on our current assumptions:

Suppose as a little girl, your daddy was a consistent help around the house and that you were told that the reason he was so attentive to what needed to be done was that he loved his family so much. This is not a bad or inappropriate message to have heard in and of itself. However, now as an adult woman you are married to a man who…well let’s just say that helping around the home is not exactly his strong suit. While your need for him to be more helpful may certainly be a problem you are justified in addressing, it may be a false assumption that his “task-passive ways” are a reflection of his lack of care and love for you.

If your response to his less than helpful ways is based on your early childhood experience with a daddy who was helpful because, “he loves us so much”, then rather than appropriately addressing the issue of your need for more help, you will likely respond on the basis of the false assumption that…”if he REALLY loved and valued me (the way daddy did) he would be more helpful around here.”

There are two reasons most of us will usually give as a justification for not checking out our assumptions:

First, we are usually convinced that we are right in our assumptions so why bother bringing them up? Over time, this just leads to a further break down in communication, a deepening conviction that our assumptions are true, and a further justification for our reactions.

The second reason is a bit more subtle but every bit as damaging; what if we find out the assumption we hold really is true? “What if her criticism of me really is her way of withholding her love!” “What if his refusal to be more helpful around the house really is his way of saying he doesn’t care much about me?” To hear that our assumptions are actually correct is always painful, but at least then we have reality to deal with, rather than the fears and insecurities we have held privately to ourselves.

So take the risk of checking out your assumptions before acting on them. The results might pleasantly surprise you.

Ed Wimberly, Ph.D. Author of, Parenting with an Attitude....21 Questions Successful Parents Ask Themselves

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