My husband, Gary, has been in sales all our married life. For much of that time, he has traveled. Sometimes he is gone for one night; sometimes for two weeks. No matter what time he arrives home he has the same routine. Before he heads to bed, he has to unpack and put away everything in his suitcase.
“Come on, honey. Come to bed,” I would say. “It’s two in the morning. We can get that tomorrow.” Reasonable, right? Evidently not. He would stay up, make sure that last pair of shoes had hit the closet, and then lay down. Now, Gary is not usually particular about his stuff. That’s why I always thought this to be strange behavior. For the first ten years of our married life, I would shake my head, thinking he was compulsive. Occasionally we’d argue about it. On the next trip he might not unpack, but sure enough, the following trip, he’d resume his peculiar behavior.
So, about ten years into marriage, I finally asked the question: “So, why do you have to unpack your suitcase when you get home and you’re dead tired?” “You know why I do it, Laura? I travel so much that when I wake up in the morning, I want no evidence that I’ve been gone.”
Whoa! How sweet is that? All this time, I’d been thinking Gary had some weird need to be fastidious. I assumed wrong.
How about you? Do you sometimes assume you know why your mate is doing something or what they’re thinking? We often jump to negative conclusions and we take quite a bit of pride in the accuracy of our conclusions. When we consistently misread our mate’s intentions or thoughts, it creates frustration, hopelessness and rebellion in our partner. It also makes it impossible to resolve anything constructively.
The truth is that most of the actions or behavior of our spouse that bothers us are usually well-intended or neutral. If we gave them a chance to let us into their thinking, we will often discover that their perspective is quite different than we expect. If you’re willing to give your spouse the benefit of the doubt, try two challenges:
- If you’ve made a negative judgment about your spouse, actively look for evidence that is contrary to what you believe to be true. If you believe your spouse is always critical, look for times when he/she is not. If you let yourself be curious and open, you will find this evidence!
- Next time your mate does something that disturbs you, rather than assume the worst, try checking it out. You might say something like, “I noticed you have a need to unpack your bag no matter what time it is. Can you help me understand your thinking?” Their answer may surprise you!
Actor Alan Alda once said, “Begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while or the light won’t come in.” Happy scrubbing!