Have you ever had an experience where someone interpreted a facial expression or something you said, totally inaccurately? I think it happens a lot and especially in marriages and other close relationships.
When my husband and I got married, we essentially agreed to marry someone with a lot of amazing qualities, but who also has weaknesses, past negative experiences, and thoughts and feelings all their own. We use these past experiences to inform us how to react to our current experiences. It’s almost like we do not always see the event that just happened for what it is, we view it through our own glasses with our past experiences coloring the current view. Let me illustrate with an example from today.
While I was making breakfast this morning, my daughter was asking my husband (who were both in the same room as I was) if we could please be on time taking her to her volleyball practice. My husband then asked me if I could please make sure to be on time taking her volleyball practice. I very quietly, got irritated because I felt my husband was blaming me for our daughter being late all the time. I had assumed he wasn’t including himself in the equation, because I knew he was also late in taking her this week as well. So, I said out-loud and in a defensive way, “Well, you were late too, honey”. We talked a little bit more and I realized he wasn’t trying to attack me or blame me by his comment, he just wanted to remind me, without absolving himself of that responsibility either, to please let’s be on time to drop our daughter off at school. So, do you see here, how I reacted to his comment assuming something different? I was reacting to some of my life experiences where I really was being blamed and or criticized for doing something, and that hurts and is frustrating. I automatically thought my perception was accurate, until I challenged that original thought, and looked further into the present situation. I then asked my husband if he was blaming me, and he said he was not. I apologized for my somewhat snarky comment and thanked him for reminding me to not be late. It is hard to apologize at times. And its hard remembering that my own perception is not always accurate and carries with it my own past life experiences. But it also released the angst I felt in that situation towards my husband, so win-win!
In this example from own life, I want to share some quick information that I have found valuable, that goes along with this above example. Dr John Gottman in his book titled “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work”, he is a relationship expert and wrote about 4 reactions that harm a marriage. He said, “Certain kinds of negativity, if allowed to run rampant, are lethal to a relationship that I call them the four horsemen of the Apocalypse” (Gottman pg. 32). And this goes along with my above story. I will elaborate in a minute. The first horseman is Criticism, second is Contempt, third is Defensiveness, and fourth is Stonewalling. In my situation this morning that I mentioned above, there were two things that went wrong. First, I got defensive and second, I didn’t ask for clarification about my clearly flawed perception. These two things are so important to do. Gottman says the antidote to defensiveness is to “take responsibility for my role in the situation” (Gottman.com). I really could have just accepted responsibility for being late taking my daughter, that is a total option and one that would have been a reality. And one of the most important things I like to remember is to ask for clarification when my feelings get hurt or when I get defensive. To give people, especially my husband, the benefit of the doubt before I allow my perception to be the truth. This has created a much more peaceful environment inside of myself. Assuming that people aren’t trying to hurt my feelings, is hard to do, but just requires me to continually remind myself that I do not know exactly what someone else intent is and it’s important to ask for clarity. It may even feel awkward to ask this of others at first, but it does become normal to do, and I think people really appreciate it as well.
“My experience is my experience, it doesn’t mean it was true, accurate or what actually happened, but it was still how I experienced it, and there is no shame in that. Now that I have validated my own experience, I am open to finding out the truth.” -Shish Kebab
Dear reader, giving people the benefit of the doubt when your feelings are hurt AND before you react, is so helpful. Remember, we do not always see a situation the way it really is, there is always another side to the story. It’s important in situations with people you love, to take responsibility for your own actions. It really does make life a little sweeter and easier to handle when I can own my issues and see another side of the story that I previously may not have seen or noticed. Humble pie can taste really good sometimes.
Ellie Lisitsa. “The Four Horsemen: Defensiveness”. The Gottman Institute. The Gottman relationship Blog. May 6, 2013. https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-four-horsemen-defensiveness/
John Gottman. “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work”. Copyright 1999, 2015.