repair relationships

I was reading Shambala Sun magazine this morning. Each month there is an analysis of a poem at the back of the magazine (I always read magazines back to front, do you?) This is one of my favorite articles in each issue. Today I was struck by the analysis more than the poem. The author writes, “our knowledge of others is one presumption after another. Then, too, our knowledge of ourselves is only slightly less presumptuous.” Our inability to be honest in relationships can make intimacy impossible. Look at the last two lines of the poem below: do you ever feel that way, like no one sees the joy or sorrow in your heart?

CASUAL POEM ON A SPRING DAY
Ch’eng Hao

The clouds are thin the wind is light the sun is nearly overhead
past the flowers through the willows down along the stream
people don’t see the joy in my heart
they think I’m wasting time or acting like a child

The definition of Presumption is:

An idea that is taken to be true, and often used as the basis for other ideas, although it is not known for certain.

This idea of presumption made me stop and think about myself, my relationships with others and about people I have coached through their relationship issues. How often do we presume to know the truth, assume someone is thinking or feeling a certain way and find ourselves completely off base? I am sure you have heard the adage that to assume is to make an ass out of u and me. Yet we do it all the time! Does this sound like you?

“Wow, he seems really mad today. What did I do now? That look on his face scares me. Is it something I said? Is he mad because I didn’t make it to the grocery store yesterday? No, that can’t be it. I thought we were getting along so well. I am not sure what to do, if I ask, he might get angrier. Maybe if I just act like nothing’s wrong, it will be okay.”

It is human nature to tell stories, it’s how we make sense of the world. Since the beginning of time people have used stories to teach, to remember, and to record history. We also make up stories as a form of personal armor, stories protect us from getting hurt. Stories can be very powerful but they can also cause damage and wreak havoc in our lives when they are not based in truth.

How can you repair your relationships?

In our book, From Fizzle to Sizzle, my co-author Dr. Caron Goode and I talk about emotional hijacking. Emotional hijacking occurs when we overreact to a situation because of something that occurred in our past. We are all victims at times of emotional hijacking. For example, when I hear my children fighting with each other, it throws me back to my childhood and listening fearfully to my own parents fight (that was before the divorce, of course.) I have very low tolerance for the squabbles and as the volume escalates, my nerves fray and I often overreact by screaming at them to be quiet. I have learned to manage this emotional hijacking and to respond more appropriately most of the time, but I don’t always get it right. Emotional hijacking happens to all of us and being aware of it can be a powerful step toward healing our relationships.

When we aren’t aware of what the root cause of our upset is, we start to make up stories, we presume that we know what the other person is thinking without bothering to ask. Recently, I had a girlfriend call and say another girlfriend thought I was upset with her because I hadn’t responded to her email. First of all, the whole “he said, she said” thing drives me crazy! I had absolutely no cause to be upset with this friend and had just missed her email. Rather than picking up the phone and asking me, she made up a story that I was mad at her. Her presumption made her feel sad, neglected and fearful. I did pick up the phone and call her immediately to talk about what had happened and asked her to please feel free to call me if she made this type of presumption again. What a sad waste of her time and emotional energy! (We could talk about the vagaries of email but we will save that for another time.)

In my title I suggest that presumption could be killing your relationships. If you find that you are constantly making up stories about what is happening in someone else’s head or heart without making the effort to ask, you need to pause, take a deep breath and be honest with yourself. It can be very difficult to be vulnerable enough to ask why someone seems upset, especially if you think you are the root cause of their discontent.

If you are spending time assuming that someone feels a certain way about you, be sure, ask them. If you want to repair your relationships, you have to be willing to be vulnerable and ask for what you need. You can set the stage with your partner by saying to them, “I want to ask you something but I am feeling nervous. Can you please listen without getting angry or sad?” Your willingness to be vulnerable can help them be more vulnerable, too.

For relationships to be successful, they have to be honest. Both partners have to be willing to express their vulnerability in a way that keeps the feelings of each one safe. I am not saying that this is easy but it is possible with practice.

If you would like help repairing your relationships, check out our new book From Fizzle to Sizzle. Relationships are a journey with many bumps, pot holes and trolls along the way. Don’t let presumption stop the journey or lead you down the wrong path.