Mark: We do it all the time.
Jill: We see things through our own experiences, history, temperament, personality, and family of upbringing perspective and we determine what someone else means with their words or body language.
Mark: The only problem is that the meaning we assign to it isn’t accurate.
Jill: When that happens, we become offended when offense wasn’t even something the other person meant. Or we become defensive when we misread body language. Or we start an argument with our spouse because we misunderstood what he or she meant with their words.
Mark: I did this for years before Jill learned to be emotionally vulnerable with me. She was strong in crisis and rarely expressed emotion or processed grief with me. This had everything to do with her slow fade of avoiding emotion. However, I read it as “you don’t need me.”
Jill: I can easily do this when Mark expresses apprehension about something. I read it as “unwilling to do something new” when the external processor in him is just expressing his thoughts or feelings about doing something new. He’s not saying he’s unwilling to do it, he’s just talking through his feelings.
Mark: We can also do the same thing with body language. When Jill is quiet I can misread her quietness as a rejection of me or that she’s angry with me when what’s really going on is that my internal processing wife is simply thinking about something. I tend to misread this because when I was young and my stepdad didn’t talk to me he was usually angry. So I’m assigning meaning to this same experience in my marriage based upon my childhood. The problem is that I’m assigning a wrong meaning to it!
Jill: So what can we do about this bad habit most of us do in marriage? We can ask our thoughts!
Mark: When we ask our thoughts, we simply put what we’re thinking on the table. For instance, I might say to Jill, “When I was a child and my step-dad got silent, he was usually angry with me. You’re quiet today…are you angry with me?”
Jill: Or I might say, “You’re expressing fear about doing this. Are you saying you don’t want to do it or are you just talking through your thoughts and feelings about it?”
Mark: When we ask our thoughts we take away the wrong assumptions and clarify what the other person is thinking, feeling, or communicating. Go ahead and give it a try! You’ll reduce conflict and increase communication!
What about you? Where are you wrongly assigning meaning in your marriage? Where do you need to ask your thoughts?
Mark and Jill Savage are the authors of No More Perfect Marriages. They live in an old farmhouse on the edge of Normal, Illinois. Want to help your marriage grow? Take the No More Perfect Marriages FREE 4-Week e-Challenge!