Our reactions to events are based on core beliefs we’ve developed about ourselves and the world. Based on past experiences, including childhood experiences, people develop these underlying beliefs. People’s underlying beliefs can cause them to incorrectly interpret their partner’s behaviors and can cause marital problems.
For example, a husband comes home from work early. One wife may think, “He’s so wonderful to come home early to spend time with me. He loves me so much more than his work!” Another wife may interpret this as, “he must be checking up on me because he doesn’t trust me.” Two completely different conclusions from the same event based on each person’s differing views. These two separate conclusions lead to very different actions.
Another example, a wife pays the credit card bill, even though her husband typically pays the bills. One husband might think, “That is so wonderful that she noticed how busy I’ve been lately. She steps up to help me out whenever I need it.” Another husband might think, “I was going to pay that bill but she has to go behind my back and show me up before I have the chance. Then later, she’ll nag I never get anything done right.” Again, the exact same situation can cause two completely different reactions.
Sometimes people express their reactions outwardly by directly accusing their spouse of committing a major infraction. They may yell or engage their partner in an argument. Sometimes the argument gets off topic quickly. Imagine a husband who asks, “Are you going to cook dinner tonight?” His wife responds, “Do you think that’s all I’m good for?” as she has been feeling bad about herself lately and jumps to the conclusion he does not value her. Suddenly, his question about what was for dinner results in an argument.
Other times, people keep their conclusions to themselves. They silently stew over their spouse’s behaviors and may exaggerate the indiscretion. For example, a wife tells her husband that he gave the children too harsh of a consequence. He doesn’t really respond when she tells him. However, he spends the rest of the day thinking, “she always thinks she knows more than I do. She undermines me all the time. She thinks I’m stupid and that she needs to be in charge.” Although he doesn’t say anything at the time, he may act angry toward his wife through his tone of voice. He may resist when she asks him to take out the trash and may start an argument with her about an unrelated topic later in the evening.
Assuming to know your partner’s intentions or the meaning behind their behaviors can be dangerous. It is important to learn to recognize your conclusions are not always accurate. In fact, it is more likely that you frequently misinterpret your partner’s intentions. Remember, that just because you think something, doesn’t make it true.
Learn how to evaluate whether there is any evidence that supports your thoughts. Ask yourself, “is there any evidence this is true?” What evidence would suggest it may not be true? Also, what might be some other ways to look at this situation? Answering these questions can help you gain a new perspective on your spouse’s behaviors without jumping to an immediate conclusion. It is helpful to answer these questions before reacting. Taking a minute to think the situation through can prevent you from jumping to an unlikely conclusion.
If you find that you and your partner experience a lot of conflict due to one or both of you jumping to conclusions, consider therapy. Therapy can help you learn to recognize underlying beliefs that may be contributing to your thoughts and behaviors. Couples therapy can assist you with finding new ways to resolve conflict as well.