Last weekend I spent 9 hours driving kids who aren’t mine from state to state. I was ultimately to meet up with my family at my in-laws’ house. Just a couple miles from their neighborhood, I ran into a road closure. As a detour, Google Maps led me onto what felt like a forever-long dirt road. It was so bumpy I thought I’d pop a tire. I had visions of being stuck in the middle of nowhere as the sun went down. Tired and de-caffeinated, my thoughts quickly turned from “Are you kidding me?” to “My entire family knew about this but no one even bothered to warn me!” 🤬🤬
But when I walked in the door and announced the plight I’d endured (a tiny violin was playing somewhere), my father-in-law said, “That doesn’t make sense. GPS must have sent you the wrong way. You could have just gone straight!” Erk. 🤦♀️ We spent the rest of the weekend laughing about my off-roading snafu.
How often do you make an assumption about what someone else is thinking? How many times have you misread someone’s intentions? I’ve done it plenty. About big things and obviously small ones.
Not all assumptions are bad. Assuming the best about people, or that things will turn out well, can be really beneficial. But when we make negative assumptions, we waste a lot of time being upset about something that’s probably not even true.
Instead of objectively considering why something happened, we chose to fill in the blanks of the story. We ignore all the other more plausible reasons for why someone behaved the way they did. And we insert a negative belief about ourselves or someone else. This isn’t a fun way to go through life, but we do it all the time!
If you’re willing to be up front and honest about what’s going on in your head, you have an opportunity to correct any misunderstanding. But that usually only works if you have good communication with the person. Otherwise, your assumption might lead you down an even more negative path.
When you assume the worst about someone or something, the fireworks that go off in your mind can feel bigger than the 4th of July.
I’m embarrassed to admit when I read a situation wrong. But I’m not the only one who’s a terrible mind-reader. Here are examples of (mis) assumptions I’ve heard from people going through marital struggle or divorce:
My spouse didn’t say hello when I got home, so he/she must be mad at me.
Since he won’t agree to my support request, he obviously couldn’t care less if the kids and I end up living on the street.
My friends had lunch last week and didn’t invite me. Maybe they don’t want to be around me now that I’m separated.
The judge is taking a long time to rule - that’s a bad sign.
The reason for each of these scenarios might be what you’re thinking. But there also could be a totally understandable explanation. Maybe your spouse was consumed thinking about a work deadline when you walked in the door. Perhaps your friends were planning a surprise get-together to cheer you up!
Now that you know you make negative assumptions, how can you stop doing it (or at least do it less often)? Here are 4 steps to take:
1. Become mindful. Notice without judgment when your mind is jumping to a conclusion without all the information. Try asking yourself: is what I’m thinking based on reality or am I filling in some blanks? For example - if I’m not being included, has anyone actually said or done anything that suggests my marital situation is causing them to change how they feel about me?
2. Consider multiple explanations. If the explanation your mind jumped to was negative, push yourself to explore others. Try to come up with at least 3 other reasons to explain the situation. In the case of the judge taking a long time to rule, other reasons might be that she’s on vacation, stuck in a criminal trial that’s preventing her from working on your case, or that her staff attorney (who writes all her orders) is dealing with a family crisis. Any of those reasons are as likely - if not more - than the one you originally came up with.
3. Make your assumption a question. This one’s really a trick to help your mind come up with alternative reasons. If your assumption was “My spouse won’t agree to my support request because he doesn’t care if we have a home to live in,” ask yourself: “Why won’t he agree to my support request?” The reason may be less cold-hearted than you’re thinking. He could be worried he can’t afford it, or believe you’re actually capable of supporting yourself. Asking yourself the question gives you room to explore reasons that might lead you to a better outcome. Once you’ve considered that your spouse might be concerned about his ability to pay, you can look at more creative ways to increase your support package (like, for example, a base monthly amount plus a percentage of his annual bonus). Rather than letting a negative assumption lead to an unwanted outcome (a support package that doesn’t actually support you), you now have the ability to involve others in a way that can improve communication and the likelihood of a positive result.
4. When in doubt, ask. Imagine what would happen if, instead of just filling in the blanks of what’s going on in someone else’s head, you asked them? It might feel scary to do, but think how much time you could save if you just knew the truth! Let’s say you’re feeling miffed about that lunch you weren’t invited to. You’ve run through the possible scenarios of why your friends chose to leave you out. You realize it’s at least possible that it’s not because they suddenly don’t want to be with you, but you’re still feeling insecure. Maybe your next step is to call one of them and say, “I know you all had lunch last week. I realize I don’t have to be included in everything you do, but I’m feeling a little left out. I’m also wondering if it has anything to do with my separation. Can I ask why I wasn’t included?” Then prepare yourself for whatever the answer is. It’s almost certainly not as bad as the one you made up on your own.