A good marriage requires a lot of do’s and don’t’s. If you think about it, you are combining two different people with two totally different backgrounds, upbringings, expectations, and dreams and merging them into an almost singular life. There should be a lot of “rules” to marriage and frankly, it’s is a miracle any of them last. I am one of the lucky ones. I landed a good one. However, we’ve had our ups and downs throughout the years and we have certainly had to learn how to navigate all of our differences as well as learn how to make marriage a good thing for both of us. I learned this one simple game changer that improved our marriage and my own emotional health….dramatically. What did I do? I stopped assuming and started asking. (Okay, so maybe that is two simple things.)
There is a saying in the recovery community that says “When you ASSUME, you make an ASS out of U and ME.” Get it? It’s okay, you can laugh. However, truer words have never been spoken. Assumptions have been the beginning of many an argument. They have caused me a lot of hurt. It has created all kinds of tension and yes, long bouts of silence (not proud of that one.) As the quote points out, whenever I assume something, the first thing I do is to make someone an “a**.” My first tendency is not to give Eric the benefit of the doubt or assume the very best. Nope, he turns into the biggest jerk to have walked the earth through my assumptions.
This is my brain’s “negativity bias.” We are all wired to assume the worst. Maybe it was survival or something way back when, but it rarely benefits my marriage today. I assume I know why he did something. His motivation for doing something or not doing something is always bad. I also assume what his feelings, intentions, and desires are. If only I was accurate, even half the time! Sigh. The point is. I’m not accurate and I turn Eric into the biggest A** through my thoughts.
Second, this little gem of a quote turns me into an A** as well. Why? For the exact reason mentioned above. I start believing that my assumptions are facts and guess what? I’m mad. Before he knows it, I’m huffing and puffing, and stating the infamous, “I’m fine” (which we all know is absolutely NEVER the truth). Tension builds, he’s confused, I’m hurt and angry and we stay miserable for a good long while. Can anyone relate to this roller coaster? Good grief, is it miserable!
“Nature abhors a vacuum.” Aristotle came up with this little phrase to simply state that nature does not like empty space. When there is emptiness, nature fills it. So what the heck am I talking about? It’s back to that negativity bias. My brain, your brain, all brains hate to have an absence of information. When there is an absence, we fill it and usually with catastrophic or negative thoughts about that not knowing. For example, when I was going to school, I might be running a bit late and would forget to put my ringer back on. Poor Eric would picture me dead on the side of the road, in a horrific car accident, or worse kidnapped, never to be heard from again. He had to fill his lack of information with something and it usually ended with death.
So this same concept, carried into every day life can create a world of hurt for both of us. We were having a really tough conversation years ago and Eric’s response to a really vulnerable and terrifying question was…silence. I took his silence and ran away with it. I assumed it meant agreement and I was devastated. In a dramatic replay with my friend, I stated, “His silence speaks volumes!” and my wise friend said, “His silence speaks silence.” She wasn’t going to go along with my assumptions. In that moment, she challenged me to explore rather than assume and she saved me from a whole heck of a lot of resentment. (As it turns out, my dear hub is a processor before he speaks, thus silence).
What about other simple comments in daily life? “Did you pick up the kids?” “What’s for dinner?” “I don’t have any clean socks.” All of these statements can result in my hackles going right up assuming that he thinks I’m incompetent or uncaring. Silly assumption, but it happens nonetheless.
So we have to stop assuming. Period. But then what? This is where the magic begins. It is so stinking simple, yet I can bet that most of us don’t do it. Instead of assuming, start asking. Instead of believing what you think you know, ask! “Hey, when you were silent the other day, what did that mean?” “You don’t seem like yourself today, are we good?” “It feels like you were just blaming me when you said that, is that what you meant?”
See where I’m going with this? Now, to be honest, I don’t always like the answer I get. Sometimes, we aren’t good in that moment. Sometimes, he really is blaming me for something but lots and lots of times, he isn’t. Honestly, most of the time, it’s not what I’m thinking at all. Yet, even if I don’t like the answer, at least I know what is going on and all of a sudden, I’m not having arguments in my head (that are brilliant, mind you) and getting resentful. Rather we can start problem solving and navigating the conflict together. I don’t turn Eric into an A** and I preserve myself from the same fate as well.
Confession, I don’t always get this right. Sometimes, it is after stewing over something for an interminable amount of time that I realize I don’t have all the facts. However, it has proven to be a game changer in our relationship and wonder of wonders…we are learning to assume the very best of each other if we assume at all.
How bout you? Can you relate to the “A**-maker?” Do you do check-ins already? Leave a comment, would love to hear all about it!