There’s a new television series on Showtime called “Couples Therapy” and as a psychology junkie, I’m fascinated to see the couples go from misunderstanding through an epiphany and then getting to common understanding. We all have misunderstandings but how often do we get through it to common understanding? What gets in the way?
One pattern I’m seeing in the show is how the couples each make assumptions about their partner’s reactions to things. It seems like when something happens, they jump to the conclusion as to why their partner is responding the way they are and no matter what the partner may say to dissuade them that they’re assumption isn’t accurate, the accusing partner stays stuck in their assumption. As if they know their partner’s inner workings better than the partner and they refuse to hear what their partner is saying as true.
An example of this is where the wife says repeatedly that her husband “doesn’t care” in all kinds of situations. After much discussion and help from the therapist, it becomes clear that while the husband does shut down and stops responding to his wife, it’s because he’s tired of being yelled at and not believed when he says he does care. Further, it comes to light that the wife had some pretty tough childhood experiences that formed feelings of abandonment. So, in present day, as soon as the husband pulls back even a little her brain goes straight to her assumption that he’s doing it because he doesn’t care and there’s nothing he can say to convince her otherwise.
And there the cycles goes and goes.
He’s not present enough for her, she gets upset at him, he pulls back, she accuses him of not caring, he tells here it’s not true and that he does care, she doesn’t believe him and continues to yell and accuse and he pulls back even further. What's cool is when the therapist helps them make these connections you can almost see the light bulb click on over their heads.
The thing will be, then, for each of them to be more understanding and patient with each other, trust what the other is saying is true and try to recognize old hurts as old, not current. Not easy but that’s what we have to do to grow in ourselves and relationships.
Question for you:
What assumptions do you make about your partner? Or co-worker or friend? Maybe it’s time to check yourself and think about why you think what you do. You may be spot on or you may be completely off the mark. The only way to know for sure if to, of course, talk about it. Here’s how you might start that conversation:
I feel so [upset, worried, hurt, anxious, etc.] when you [don’t call me back, call too much, interrupt me, look at your phone when I’m speaking, etc.]. I think it might be because you [don’t care, don’t love me, are irritated with me, are cheating on me, etc.]. Is that true?
Now, the key will be for your partner/co-worker/friend to respond with honesty and kindness. Hopefully they do! And then, once the true feelings are out in the open, you can talk about how to try to navigate things without upsetting the other person. Notice I said “try.” If you’re stuck in pattern then it’s going to take practice to change. Be patient with yourself and your partner. Recognize that these things are hard and the best we can do is really try.