Essential Reflections

Relationship Assumptions

I keep learning from my wife, even after almost 40 years together. We realized quite a while ago that we tend to make different assumptions when we encounter people and that these assumptions shape our experience with them. I have, for years, been experimenting with making her assumptions at times and I have been encouraging her to appreciate mine.

Perhaps the simplest assumption she makes is that everyone is basically the same. I, on the other hand, am prone to assume we are different. What a difference these assumptions make as we walk into a room of people! For her, these are people like her, with fears and loves she can relate to, as they can relate to hers. For me, when I am in the grip of my assumption that people are different from me, the room can be scary, filled with people I don’t understand and who don’t understand me. It is easy to jump to imagining they are judging me and to beat them to the pass by judging them first. An anxious situation. Now, I don’t mean to suggest that caution is never appropriate, but it is different to adopt an attitude for a definite reason than to simply assume without choosing at all.

The other assumption she makes is that we are all connected until something disconnects us. I tend to assume that we are disconnected until we do something to get connected. You can imagine, again, the difference these assumptions might make in entering that room full of people. She will see herself as already connected to many of them, whereas I will myself as separate and needing to do something to have any connection to anyone.   Again, an anxious situation. I would feel a need to make some approach, break the ice, or bridge the gap, which is a daunting task, one I might feel unsure about or incapable of executing. She, on the other hand, engages others in ways expressive of the connection that already exists. There is already a bridge. As I say, I have been learning to make her assumptions rather than mine as often as I can.

These differing assumptions first came out after a lot of friction between us. I would often feel as if she was ignoring or neglecting me, and I would so accuse her. She was defensive, but also puzzled, since she didn’t feel like it was necessary for her to do anything for us to be connected. It took a long time to understand how our different assumptions – different styles in a way – were leading us to this impasse and the friction it created. I have had to work to tell myself she isn’t neglecting me or others with whom she assumes connection; she has had to work to reach out more than feels necessary to her.

It is pointless, I think, to try to have no assumptions as we step into our relationships. The best we can do is to be conscious of the assumptions we bring and open to learning from our experience what impact they have. Accumulated experience will illuminate which ones create what we want. I commend to your attention the two assumptions I have been experimenting with these many years: everyone is basically the same, and we are all connected until something disconnects us.