Chronic Communication at Home: Assuming Positive Intent

“There you go again.”


Yes, there somebody goes again: Behaving in way that’s pretty unhelpful. That last thing you needed from them. And if that person lives with you, you might be feeling all kinds of emotions. Disappointment. Frustration. Anger.


And then it’s off to the races. Again.


Chronic conditions really take a toll on your emotions. What you need from the people in your life is understanding and support, with some compassion thrown in for good measure. Is that too much to ask? It wouldn’t seem that way.


Then you get one of those offhand comments that are just plain old insensitive. Maybe even mean. A look that says it all. Or you get ignored when it should have been more than obvious that you needed a little help.


What’s going on here?



Making Assumptions is Human. But is it Helpful?


First, let me make it clear that I am not making excuses for family members who behave in a way that is uncaring or hurtful or self-centered. No excuses for that kind of behavior.


But let me ask you a question: Are there times when your first reaction to the behavior of your partner doesn’t match up with the actual situation? In other words, is it possible that at times you might make an assumption of what your partner intended because you jump to a conclusion and then react accordingly?


It’s only human to make assumptions about other people’s behavior. And if you have had a few not-so-great experiences in the past, it’s not surprising that you might react to the first sign of a return to familiar territory.


But another question: What’s the end result? Hurt or angry feelings can lead to silence or outbursts. If pushed aside, these feelings can build up over time, only to be unleashed full force at a later time when that “there you go again” button is pushed.


Think about the impact that making these assumptions has on your relationship, as well as on other family members. Not exactly a way to promote harmony at home.


So, what about taking a closer look at those times when you assume your partner is not being caring or helpful? And not letting those times take a negative toll on your relationship? Here’s how:


Look for patterns. Do certain situations tend to bring up those feelings that your partner is being uncaring or hurtful? Like when your partner seems to barely acknowledge that you’re in the room, or gives you an excuse about why he/she can’t help you when you ask for it, or snaps at you. Most likely, these are situations in which you are most at risk for assuming the worst and reacting accordingly.


Be mindful. Most likely, when you’re assuming the worst about your partner’s behavior, you feel it in your body the same time your mind comes up with an interpretation. Your heart might race, for example, or you might get that achy feeling in your stomach. Use these body sensations as a signal that it might be time to take a step back and look at what’s going on. A time to ask yourself: “What am I assuming here?” And, “is it time to reframe?”


Consider alternate possibilities. Sure, you mind is going to come up with one interpretation of your partner’s behavior. Examples might include, “he is tired of dealing with me,” “she doesn’t care how I feel,” or “he’s being so mean to me.” What if you considered other interpretations of what your partner may be intending? The negative interpretation is the one your mind throws at you first. That’s human nature. But how about considering a few other possibilities? This is also referred to as reframing.


Look for positive interpretations of your partner’s behavior. For example, “maybe he’s tired out tonight, and just isn’t paying attention,” “she may not be sure what to say, so she’s staying quiet,” or “he may be saying that to help me but it just isn’t coming out right.” See what I mean? Once you put your mind to work coming up with alternatives, you may also find that your emotional reaction to your partner’s behavior changes.


Be willing to blink first. Power struggles often sneak into relationships. When that happens, the result is feeling like it’s up to your partner to be the one to make the first move toward restoring harmony when things get rocky. You may not be wrong. On the other hand, maybe nobody’s wrong. Or right. So how about placing your relationship first, and assuming that your partner’s intentions are positive? And while you’re at it, how about giving up the need to always be right? Just a suggestion!


And how about this: If you’re not sure, then ask. Let’s think about whether making assumptions are helpful at all. Are there times when it might make more sense just to ask outright? How about: “You seem unhappy tonight. What’s going on?” Or, “you kind of snapped at me when I asked for your help. Do you want to talk?” Sometimes, your partner may not be in an emotional place where they can talk things out, or you may not be. But at least opening the door let’s your partner know that you don’t want to territory that is all too familiar.


Some helpful words for yourself: “I don’t have to be the center of the universe.” One of the reasons that other people’s behavior leaves us feeling angry or hurt is that we assume it must be about us. Sometimes it is, but often it isn’t. Your partner may be dealing with a lot of stuff that you aren’t aware of, so while it feels like their behavior is related to you, it may not be. Whew! How’s that for a big old relief? Think of all that those negative thoughts and feelings you wouldn’t have to be tossing around in your mind.


How about asking: “How can I help?” Your partner may need some support. Can you help out? Showing love and concern benefits your partner, and it benefits your relationship. That’s assumption of positive intent in action.


You and your partner. Avoid assuming what your partner’s intentions are. And when you do, consider alternatives. And maybe, just maybe, assume your partner is on your side. After all, you’re a team.