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By: Mozelle Forman, Lcsw

Assumptions very rarely turn out well. In fact, while we all make assumptions throughout the day, some research shows that we are wrong more than 50% of the time. That means we spend half our lives not understanding each other! Imagine the impact this has on our marriages.

Jonathan arrives home and sees Karen sitting quietly at the kitchen table. He assumes she wants to be left alone, so he goes into the living room and reads the paper. Karen, seeing Jonathan enter the living room and not come to her, assumes he isn’t interested in what is bothering her, and getshurt and angry. After a few minutes she tearfully begins to prepare dinner.

Hearing the pots banging and the silverware clattering Jonathan enters the kitchen. “Hey, Honey what’s up?” he says tentatively.

“What’s up, you ask? Why didn’t you come see for yourself a half hour ago?”

“I assumed you wanted to be left alone”, he responds.

“Why would you assume that? Just because you want to be left alone to mope doesn’t mean that I do. Why don’t you just ask me what I need?”

Which clearly is the most relevant question.

When your spouse assumes incorrectly what you mean, or assumes something about you, you don’t often think “Well, that’s a reasonable assumption.” Instead, you think, “What is wrong with them?!” When you assume, you’re basically deciding that what you think about a situation is “fact” when you really don’t have all the information. If you assume you know what your spouse needs or wants before they have actually expressed themselves, you may be reacting to them rather than interacting with them.

 When husbands and wives do this on a consistent basis they will never feel fully happy or satisfied, because assumptions leave no room for change, growth, or negotiation. If Jonathan has assumed that Karen wants to be alone without checking in with her, he will give her what he thinks she needs, not what she in fact needs.

Miguel Ruiz author of The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedombelieves that we make all sorts of assumptions because we don’t have the courage to ask questions. “If our spouses don't tell us something, we make assumptions to fulfill our need to know” which replaces the need to communicate and understand the other. “Even if we hear something and we don't understand, we make assumptions aboutwhat it means and then believe the assumptions” without any factual basis. The truth is we need to learn to practice active and reflective listening.

Active listening is when we seek to understand another. We ask questions, probing for what’s underneath aperson’s statements, and we engage until we have our own personal “Ah-hah!” about what the other individual is trying to communicate. In this way we gain understanding based on what they have said, not on what we think they meant.

Reflective listening iswhen we mirror back what we think we have heard to confirm we indeed have understood.

Let’s say you’re annoyed with your partner. Do you assume they should know what they have done and expect them to be able to mind-read? Do you get further annoyed when they assume wrongly?

If the answer is yes, then instead of assuming, judging, and thinking the worst, talk to each other more. Miguel Ruiz advises that we “find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama.”

We very often assume that certain key people in our lives should just know what we mean or what we are saying without us having to go into too much detail. Not true. Express yourself with aneven tone, at a slow pace, and use as few words as possible to communicate your need, feeling, or idea.

And if you are listening, don’t jump to conclusions. Before deciding what your spouse means, ask for clarification. Do this as soon as you can before you have a chance to concoct unfavorable scenarios in your head. When you ask for clarification, don’t do it in an accusatory manner. Start your question with, “Did you mean . . .” This will keep your spouse from getting defensive explaining what he or shemeant.

Don’t assume that what is “obvious” to you is equally clear to someone else. Sometimes the things we neglect to say are the most necessary in creating a harmonious relationship.