Want to keep your relationship in low conflict mode?
Practicing this helpful habit will go a long way to reducing arguments that were never needed in the first place!
It's a given in marriage that our partner's are going to say and do things that offend us. But sometimes we get upset, not because of something they have done, but because we have jumped to a totally wrong conclusion about what they did!
Mighty Marriage Habit: Don’t Automatically Jump To Negative Conclusions
One thing you can do to reduce marital conflict is not jump to bad conclusions when your spouse offends you. The problem is over-interpreting our spouse's words and behaviors.
To over-interpret something is to make it into a larger issue than it really is. To over-interpret our spouse’s behavior is to attribute negative motivations and intentions to it that are not true.
Over-interpreting could just as easily be called MIS-interpreting. When you misinterpret another person’s actions you have literally MISSED in your understanding of those behaviors.
As a husband I can be bad about this. My wife will do something, or fail to do something, and I sometimes will interpret the motivation for her action as negative towards me.
Maybe she loudly slams the dishwasher door shut and I become upset. I think, “She is mad at me about something”. My corresponding reaction is to become upset at her – but only because she is upset at me! The actual truth of the matter is that she is NOT upset at me.
When I confront my wife about slamming the dishwasher door she tells me the real reason for the slam - “I had overloaded the dishwasher and could not get the door shut. So, I pushed it really hard to get the door to shut and it was loud when I did. My slamming the door was unintentional and had NOTHING to do with you, honey”.
Yeesh. Don't I feel like a heel - jumping on my wife for something that NEVER EXISTED IN THE FIRST PLACE! All because I had drawn a wrong conclusion. After her explanation I feel embarrassed and disappointed in my self. And I should. Why are we so quick to think everything our partner does is about us?
Negative Conclusions Hurt Your Marriage
Researchers  have found that unhappy couples are more likely to attribute their partner’s negative behaviors to weaknesses and flaws in the personality of their partner.
Happy couples are the opposite. Instead of attributing a spouse’s negative behavior to something broken in their partner’s personality they interpret the negative behavior as being caused by some temporary external circumstance outside their partner’s control.
Example: A wife texts her husband, asking him to text her back. The entire day goes by and he never texts her. The wife is upset.
In unhappy marriages the wife tells herself, “He is such a terrible, selfish person. He doesn’t care about me.”
The wife in the happier marriage tells herself, “He must be having a really busy day. I hope he is doing o.k.”
One choice is to automatically attribute our spouse’s behavior to negative reasons. The other choice is to assume a neutral or non-negative reason for their behavior. The negative conclusion tears down our spouse, attributing the offensive behavior to a weakness in their character. The neutral or positive attribution spares our spouse from negative blame.
The Eventual Damage To Your Marriage
Do you see the danger, here? The more we tear down our spouse the less
attractive they become to us, and the more our hostility can build towards them.
Over time, this may lead us to viewing them so totally negative that we have no positive feelings left towards them. This can make divorce look really inviting. And all because our negative feelings towards our mate were built on wrong assumptions in the first place! How terribly unfair to the both of us.
The Bottom Line
1) Understand that it is easy to jump to wrong conclusions regarding your loved one's behavior.
2) Examine your own attributional style. Are you guilty of automatically assuming the worst about your spouse?
3) Follow this rule:
When your spouse does something that offends you don’t automatically make an assumption. Ask yourself this one question: Could there be an alternative explanation that puts the blame somewhere beside my spouse?
Husbands and wives - This mighty marriage habit is too simple to ignore. Begin using it today.
-dr. bill walker