We have all done it. We have all had moments in our lives where we look at our partner, or someone we care about and assume we know what they are thinking or how they are going to react. Much of the time we are right because human brains are really good at picking up patterns, and these people are important to us, so we are likely to commit the patterns to memory. Also, having an idea of how they will react or what they might think helps us to plan, to maximize our changes of getting it right, to minimize our chances of getting hurt or hurting someone else. Frankly, in these hectic times, it is faster than the alternative. Checking in with our partners and dealing with their thoughts and feelings takes more time than drawing on our experience. Not only does it take more time, but doing it can be hard. It requires us to take a risk and be open to however they respond as well as to be vulnerable and express our interest or concern. So, it makes sense that we often shortcut the process and guess instead.
However, what sometimes happens is that when we guess what they might be thinking or how they might react, we don’t give them the chance to tell us how they feel or to even have their own reactions. We might believe that they are upset or don’t support us when this isn’t the case. When we guess we tell ourselves that our partner doesn’t appreciate us, doesn’t have time for us, etc. And once we assume we act as if this is true without giving out partner the chance to tell us how they feel. If you have ever had your partner accuse you of feeling a certain way then you know what it is like to be on the other end of that. It sucks. It can feel as though the other person doesn’t understand us, and depending on the intensity of their accusation it can feel like they won’t listen or that there is no point in telling them anyway because they won’t believe you.
Not only this, but guessing can mean we might not tell them about things that we should. Have you ever found yourself lying to your partner about something (maybe even something small) and wondering why you are doing it? In all likelihood some part of you is guessing that they would be mad, disappointed, and/or sad if you tell them, so you try to avoid it by lying or just avoiding telling them. Often when partners find out about the lie they will say that they are more upset about the lie than the thing that was lied about.
But, perhaps most important of all is the missed opportunities to get to know one another and create intimacy. Connection and intimacy are created when we are vulnerable and show our inner selves, thoughts and desires, to another and they accept it. When we don’t show our partner, we don’t allow them to accept us, and it is difficult to build connection. As human beings we are wired for connections for others. It is a basic drive, so a lack of connection in a relationship drives a conflict cycle. Guessing can lead to more guessing, which can lead to more misunderstanding and more chances to feel that our partner doesn’t get it and to feel alone. By guessing what is going on with our partner we are shortcutting the process for connection. And that is the saddest part of all. The thing that we started doing to protect ourselves and/or our partners, can be the thing that hurts us both the most.
By checking in with our partner, we learn about who they are in a way that we either didn’t know or that we had lost touch with. We might learn that an assumption we made isn’t completely accurate. But even if our guessing was accurate, by checking in we are creating a possibility for connection, and working to create an environment that is accepting of both of us as we are. So, next time you catch yourself guessing what is going on with your partner, just check in instead.
For more information on creating better relationships:
Brene Brown’s TED talk on the power of vulnerability https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability?language=en
Sue Johonson’s explanation of a secure bond.
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