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Giving your Spouse the Benefit of the Doubt.

by Sam

Recently on our Social Media we posted the above quote about the importance of giving your spouse the benefit of the doubt while waiting for all the facts to come in. Basically jumping to a negative conclusion in your relationship will most definitely lead you to a world of hurt. Avoid that.

Recently I had an experience where I was given the opportunity to "practice what I preach"  my boss at work. It wasn't easy and my emotions were really telling me to do something else. AVOID, ABORT, STUFF. If you want to see us discussing this story at length watch our video <HERE>

As I have pondered this situation I have come to a new conclusion about communication that I hadn't before. First the worst thing you can do when you have partial details is to assume negative intent and tell your partner why they did what they did. This judgement/criticism is definitely going to lead to negative conflict. The Attack/Defend Cycle in full effect. For example had I started in on my boss with, "You are such a micro-manager, you don't trust anyone!"

Bad...

The next thing we teach is to get in touch with your feelings and start by sharing them. The proverbial "I Statement." Now this is better but in some cases especially when we don't have all the details can still get us in trouble because these feelings we are describing are based on perceptions that may or may not be accurate. If I tell my boss, "I feel unfairly scrutinized, mistrusted and upset..." without knowing where she was coming from I'm basically laying all my cards down at the beginning of the hand. 

Fold...

My usual magic bullet to communication is the following line that I encourage people to memorize, "This is what I'm hearing, is that what you meant?" Great line but still comes up short when we don't have much information. Let me try to say it this way. Many people get in trouble because their internal thoughts are not tamed, especially those who border on being reactive. Reactivity lets the wild animals of negative thoughts out to do serious damage to relationships. In my case I'd rather not have my boss think I'm super defensive about being micro-managed...do I really want her feeling the need to look into other areas of my performance with increased scrutiny? I think you get the picture. All of this hinges the pieces that was missing.

I guess the step before the solution is realizing that you are missing pieces in the first place. This gets back to the title of giving people the benefit of the doubt until all the facts have been gathered. But you won't do that if you assume you have all the facts. So it would be a good habit to realize that you probably don't have all the details and make a promise with yourself to hold your internal world in check and not respond until you ask some additional questions.

Now in my experience this was a MAJOR struggle because the more I thought about it the more worked up I got. I WAS frustrated, I DID lose sleep. My emotions were really sounding the alarms. To this I would say that when your emotions are barking you should take a closer look but don't assume that just because you are feeling strongly that you have "emotional" proof. Feelings are not an accurate measure of truth.

Okay so now for the conclusion. I actually prayed the next morning and asked for two things, one is the courage to face the issue, (I'm an avoider by nature) and second is for the wisdom on how to approach it. Here is what hit me. Just simply to ask my boss what emotion she was having when she wrote the email in the first place. What was going on for her? 

Until I fully understood what was going on for her I was reacting to my imagination. Yes I can create any story line but when you do that you are participating in a monologue not a dialogue. You can't solve fake problems. If you don't know what's really going on you can't solve it. 

So that is what just what I did and guess what. It was nothing. She wasn't feeling anything. She wasn't upset, just simply asking for clarification because she remembered something else being said, which was true.

Total relief. Now I can't get that night of sleep back but things are resolved. 

Here are a few other lessons to be learned...

  • Text Messages and Email don't adequately communicate feelings. 
  • Assume positive or neutral intent with these means of communication.
  • If you are going to have a serious conversation that can be interpreted negatively do it Face to Face! 
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