Why Making Assumptions
Isn’t Always The Best Thing
“Assumptions are the termites of relationships.”
By far, the best advice anyone has ever given to me was to remove the word ‘assume’ from my vocabulary.
At the time, I didn’t quite fully understand the exact meaning or impact of that admonition until situations arose time and time again in both my professional and personal life as to why it completely made sense.
Why Do We Do It?
Assumptions help us interpret the world around us. They impact our decisions. It’s easy. It’s safe. We all do it, pretty much all the time. And it can be about anyone or anything.
When you think about it, when we assume something, we’re not taking the time to find proof to support it. We’re simply making a guess based on past experiences or wishful thinking.
We arbitrarily make decisions and believe them to be fact, without any observable evidence or factual knowledge.
But much too often, we take it for granted that what we think is the truth. We can incorrectly assume an outcome, someone’s intentions or actions.
The problem with making these assumptions is that more often than not, we’re wrong.
A lot of damage can be done if you assume without seeking the truth.
Cupboards And Poltergeists
During the first couple years of my marriage, I thought our apartment was possessed by poltergeists. Well, I didn’t really. But it was more believable than assuming that my husband didn’t care enough to listen when I continually reminded him to shut the kitchen cupboards and drawers.
Despite the countless reminders, I’d still walk into them and bang my head as I turned the corner. One could argue that I was careless for not watching where I was going. But from my perspective, I assumed his inactions were because he was careless, disrespectful and inconsiderate.
Ultimately, making assumptions started becoming a habit.
I became less and less grounded in reality and boy did that start creating problems.
The bottom line was that I assumed my beliefs were correct.
Seven years after the first ‘poltergeist’ incident, my husband was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Everything started to all make sense after that; his awkwardness in social settings, his ‘forgetfulness’, his struggles to fit into society, his inability to sleep before midnight or wake before 10 in the morning, all which I perceived as being immensely lazy. Never once did I think there could be a psychological explanation for his behaviour.
At the time, I based my erroneous conclusions on observations, my emotions, beliefs, expectations and wishes. I allowed my inner world to colour the way I was seeing the outer world, and it started to distort the truth.
As with any marriage, especially one with a partner with special needs, communication is key. Though we strive to communicate our thoughts, intentions and expectations as clearly as possible to each other, there are times, like when we’re busy or tired, that we make errors in our actions and judgments and miscommunicate.
Or when I’m on an emotional PMS roller coaster and just trying not to flip out over why the toilet seat was left up, the last thing I want to hear someone say to me is, “Explain yourself. Don’t assume I know what you mean.”
That can hit a nerve. But it’s so true.
We all need to better communicate.
How Do We Stop Making So Many Damning Assumptions?
We need to start basing our understanding of people and the world on more tangible facts. We can do this by simply pausing to stop to check our facts before jumping to our conclusions.
We need to ask ourselves, “How do I know this?”
After years of making erroneously assumptions in my life, here are the lessons I’ve learned:
Strive to be clear and concise with my words. Sometimes I’m told that I’m too open, that I provide way too much information. But I’d much rather be clear and eliminate any vagueness from my statements and minimize the possibility of any misunderstandings.
Don’t react with emotion. Instead of reacting with pure emotion, I now ask myself why I’m reacting that way. Is that the whole picture? What is the real reason behind the initial emotional response?
Ask for clarification. If I’m not clear on something I’ve heard, I’ll ask them to repeat it. It’s much better to get the right picture, to clarify any misunderstandings or mis-statements right away.
Listen carefully before responding. In the past, if I hear something I don’t like, I would shut my eyes and ears and look for the opportunity to respond without hearing the whole statement. Instead of practicing avoidance, such as when I see an aspect of a person I don’t like, I now try and get the whole picture before responding.
No one is perfect. Not you. Not me. No one. Everyone makes mistakes including false assumptions. Look for that when people do it and let it go. Forgive them for it.
Slower is better. Our modern life seems to go at warp speed. Instead, I’ve learned to slow down and take my time with assumptions. They will be seen more clearly and it helps me find the right way to work through them. If you do this too, everyone, especially you, will benefit every time.
We all need to make certain assumptions in life. But we all need to look carefully at the assumptions we make. We shouldn’t be afraid to challenge their validity.
I’ve had to come out of my comfort zone on numerous occasions for a reality check.
But unless we do so, we can end up with a lot of pain, agony, embarrassment, missed opportunities, failed relationships and many more situations if we just avoided the trap of false assumptions in the first place.