Monday, March 18, 2013

Assuming the Best of Your Spouse

One of the things that often causes friction in a marriage is when one spouse assumes the other has wrong motives. In many cases, this happens when they take what the other person has said in a way that was not intended.

Of course, all of us say things that can be taken in a different way than we intend from time to time. For example, I remember a time several years ago when my mom was trying out a new vacuum cleaner. She really liked it and exclaimed “Wow, this thing really sucks.” My brother immediately quipped “Mom, isn’t that what it’s supposed to do?” Of course, we knew what she meant, but we immediately saw the other possible meaning as well. She was referring to the suction of the vacuum and saw it as a good thing. But it would be really easy for someone to misinterpret what she said as saying that the vacuum was no good – the exact opposite of what she meant. When she said it, she didn’t even think of how it could be interpreted until we started laughing.

The same kind of thing happens to all of us. We say something slightly wrong or in a less than clear way. We use the wrong word. Or maybe we say something that is perfectly fine on the surface, but could easily be misinterpreted. Think how awkward it would be to have people always assume the worst possible interpretation of our words. Yet that often happens in a marriage.

The problem arises when one person says something and the other assumes a hurtful meaning that was never intended. We women are especially prone to assuming the worst or reading between the lines (when there might have been nothing there), although both sexes do it. This often leads to strife and hurt feelings that could have been avoided. A good many marital arguments could have been avoided entirely if not for this kind of misunderstanding.

She says that they need to sit down and look at the finances. He hears that he’s not providing properly and needs to step up. Thus, he’s defensive and wants to avoid talking about it. But she didn’t say anything of the sort and may not even have thought such a thing. She may have just wanted to have his involvement and help with an issue that she finds difficult to navigate. She should be able to count on him to work with her as a team, especially in something as important as finances. But he’s too busy hearing wrong motives and insults in her words to be the help she needs.

He says that he’d like to spend more time alone together. She hears that she’s not giving him enough sex and starts defensively talking about how busy she is all day and how he should help more with the kids and the housework. But all he was doing was sharing a need for more time with her. She is too busy being defensive (and perhaps feeling guilty) that she isn’t hearing the need of his heart.

These kinds of situations are common. At their root, they are a failure to communicate. When you assume hidden motives and interpret the other person’s words accordingly, you are effectively silencing what they are really trying to say. And usually it leads to reactions that aren’t warranted. Then the other person gets defensive while trying to explain what they meant, and they’re aggravated that you so obviously assume the worst of them when they love you and didn’t mean what you thought they meant. It can become a vicious cycle of misunderstanding and hurt feelings that tears couples apart.

In one way, it’s understandable that we get in this habit of assuming the worst. After all, in this dog-eat-dog world we live in, we can’t assume the best intentions of everyone. It would be dangerous and foolish to assume that everyone out there has only our best interest in mind. It’s easy to get a little cynical in order to protect ourselves. But if there’s anyone in the world we should be able to count on to have our backs and be on our side, it is our spouse – the one who vowed to love us forever. If our heart should be safe with anyone, it should be with our one true love. So why do we so often assume that our spouse is hiding an insult in their words or trying to hurt us? Why do we assume they have wrong motives? Why can’t we instead assume that we are misunderstanding if it seems that their words are hurtful or insulting?

When your spouse says something that sounds hurtful or accusing, the first words out of your mouth should ask for clarification. Don’t jump to conclusions and react. You should immediately assume that you heard wrong or that you are misinterpreting their words and that they didn’t mean what they said the way you took it. Remain calm and ask what they meant by that. If it turns out that they are insulting you, there’s plenty of time to get mad then. But most of the time that isn't the case. Assume the best and it will save both of you a lot of needless heartache and stress.

I’ve found that this approach works in my marriage to avoid arguments and it will work in yours. It just takes some time to train ourselves to see our spouse as a teammate and supporter rather than an opponent and to learn to ask for clarification rather than jumping to erroneous conclusions.

Linked up with Yes They're All Ours, Time-Warp Wife, To Love Honor and Vacuum, More of Him, Mom's the WordWhat Joy is MineWFMW, Messy Marriage, The Alabaster Jar, WLWW, and NOBH.


  1. Thanks for posting! I have considered this too and came to similar conclusions. Love "always hopes" (1 Corinthians 13) We can help keep the relationship bond together and peaceful if we are hoping for the best from them rather than trying to assume and pounce on the worst.

  2. Asking great open-ended questions that provide clarification is so key to avoiding this terrible pitfall of communication, Lindsay. I'm so glad you're bringing light to a tough subject that probably trips me up more than I'd like to admit. :) I appreciate your tips here--it's a great reminder for all of us. Thanks for linking it up at Wedded Wed!

  3. Ooh, am I ever guilty of this one! My husband and I definitely work on it, though. :) Thanks for bringing this up!! Great post!

  4. Great insights and suggestions! This should be required reading for all couples! :)

    Thanks for linking up for Marriage Monday!

  5. This is an awesome post!!!! It is so true and it can happen a lot. I call it having your "me" filter tuned to high, so that you filter every comment with how it pertain to you and how it affects you and putting your own spin on what you think the person was saying.

    My hubby calls it inferring evil intent where none was intended.

    I have a sister who used to have a very high "me" filter, still does sometimes, lol! Several years ago I told her she looked very pretty in her dress, I also said I loved that color but couldn't wear it as it didn't look good on me.

    She told my mom that I told her that she looked ugly in her dress, lol!

    I love where you said to ask for clarification. If more people did that there would be less arguments!

    Thanks so much for linking up to "Making Your Home Sing Monday!"

  6. My hubby has a knack for trying to pay me compliments, but they wind up sounding more like back door insults. He doesn't mean them to be insulting, so I have the choice of listening to the loving compliment part or harboring the offending part. I choose the former and smile to myself at the latter. He means well, loves me, and made an effort to let me know verbally.

  7. I had an 'Aha!' Moment when I read the paragraph about discussing finances. I have been trying to get my husband to discuss finances for years(!) and have always been greeted by his defense and often insults. Your comment that he feels that he automatically assumes that he is not a good provider was eye opening. Thank you!

  8. There's a word for this - charity (caritas) - specifically, giving others the benefit of the doubt. And as the adage says, it begins at home.

    "If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?" 1 John 4:20, NKJV

    The same principle applies to your parents, spouse, and children as well.