If I had a dime for every dating profile, social media post, or lamenting friend where “…I hate drama…” came up, I’d be living in a tropical paradise enjoying my independent wealth. Instead I’ve had two instances in as many days of talking friends down from the proverbial ledge based on seemingly small circumstances. An assumption was made that was neither correct nor served them in any way.
Assumptions are, by nature, based on perceptions, observations, or beliefs in the absence of concrete facts or a partial set, to which we fill in the blanks. A tricky thing assumptions are. We can form an assumption based on a plethora of factors both internal and external. We then use those to choose a mode of being or way to behave. That’s only the beginning of the assumption story. It’s how we treat people, decisions we make, actions we take based on these beliefs that threaten our “drama-free zone”. Ever assumed and been wrong? If you’re like most people on the planet, that answer was likely yes.
“Assumptions are the termites of relationships.” – Henry Winkler
Internal factors help us form assumptions such as fear of heights, a belief that all men cheat because a former lover did, or a belief that the fun stops once children are born because Hollywood says it does. External factors are the easier-to-spot culprit of the assumptions we make. Everything from the well-meaning friend who suggests a “sexier” haircut (“I’m not sexy?”) to the last half of a sentence you overheard your boss say can turn into crises in no time flat. Better start packing up your office.
When we’re in relationships with others, our internal beliefs about ourselves, partners, friends, and the world at large shape how we, well…. relate to them. If you have a belief that your family is a close, loving family, you’ll look for examples of that and likely regularly find it. In turn, you’ll offer more love to them and them in return. The opposite is also true. If you assume your parents didn’t want you, you’ll likely look for examples of disconnected behavior and reinforce this. As you can imagine, both scenarios will direct our behavior but, the destination will be much different.
If you don’t believe you’re attractive, when your partner glances at another in the coffee shop, it’s easy to assume they find them more attractive than you. Do you ask? Start a fight? Hold back in the bedroom? Maybe you stop taking care of your appearance because you decide it no longer matters. Drama ensues, and likely pain too.
We hit the drama jackpot when we assume, then act upon it. Imagine seeing your spouse in a restaurant with another person you don’t know. Assumption made; cheating. When we’re back home with the “cheating” spouse we’re short, curt, maybe even nasty and confrontational. The unsuspecting spouse is blindsided and retreats or fights back and things become hurtful. This sparks more negative beliefs that spark more hurtful arguments. Before you know it, you’re in full-blown relationship limbo. At best you’ve lost trust in each other, at worst you may be ready to call it quits. All over a sideways glance over a latte.
Your boss says you need to improve your quarterly report. Assumption made; I’m going to get fired. You stop interacting with your boss for fear of further criticism. You believe you’re inefficient so you start working long hours to ensure you can meet deadlines. You build resentments which cause you to react negatively to your boss. Eventually your work situation no longer offers satisfaction. Your boss notices over time and eventually sacks you. Drama. Drama. Drama. (cue the dirge in the background). All because he wanted more charts and graphs but you never stopped to ask.
These are extreme examples but are no less real because of the anxiety and anguish we subject ourselves to when we make an assumption in relationship. Assumptions can serve us in many situations but when it comes to relationships, they can be toxic. It’s always better, hard as it may be, to do your research first. Without it, you could hurt yourself and those you care about.
We can stop the repetitive pattern of assumptions that hurt us if we work on becoming aware of them in the first place. It’s easy to discover these events if we practice presence with ourselves and stop the assumption monster in its tracks. When you find yourself feeling bad, uneasy, or any negative emotion connected to a new situation in relationship with someone else, ask yourself these questions:
Am I in an altered state right now? (sad, bored, hungry, thirsty, cold, hot, tired, etc.) If we’re already in a heightened emotional state, we’re more prone to look on the dark side of things. Take a nap. Have a glass of water. Walk in nature. Breathe a few deep, calming breaths.
Do I have all the facts? When you see your spouse, ask who the other person was at the restaurant. Ask your boss for further clarification about her comment so you can create concrete improvement plans.
Am I making a belief based on my fears and insecurities or a real situation or event? Be honest with yourself. If you only have partial facts, seeing the person but not knowing their identity, save the feelings for later. Find a way to push it out of your mind until you can gather the details.
If my assumption is wrong, will I cause damage to my relationship by acting on it? If the answer is yes, it’s always better to wait instead of act. Gather the full set of facts and speak to the other person. Once you’ve spoken, choices can be made. When you have all the facts, we aren’t necessarily spared pain, but it can help us make clearer decisions and act in our best interest.
One of my favorite strategies is to make the opposite assumption when I or my clients are stuck in the negative. Instead of cheating, my partner is planning a surprise party. My boss really appreciates my work so I’m grateful she gave me feedback, it only helps me get better. My partner finds me very attractive. If you can recognize the negative and take a step back to turn it over, you’ll preserve some peace-of-mind and strengthen yourself. This new positive mind set can improve how you relate to others which will create a continuous loop back to you.
Until the next inspiration, love yourself and love your life.