“You didn’t call the car repair shop because you don’t care—it’s not your car!” Sound
familiar? In relationships—especially marriages—people assume a certain action has
a motive behind it. Usually that is true. But if one person in a relationship believes
the other has a meaning to harm them problems ensue and accusations fly back and
forth. “I care about your car—you don’t care about how busy I get at work! You think I
have all day to make phone calls! What have you done today?”
If you have been in conversations like this you can imagine where they go from here.
The often escalate to yelling, screaming, accusations, hurtful words, threats and/or
silence. What if the assumption that the person did not make the call to the repair shop
was NOT that they didn’t care? What if it was that they cared so much that they became overwhelmed with finding the right shop and ran out of time before finding one? What if they did not call because they forgot? What if they did not call because they spoke to a friend that told them the problem may be fixed at home in the garage? Because it was presented as an accusation the real reason may never get presented—or if it is it is not believed! When people start to make assumptions about motive and then act as if it were true all kinds of needless problems can ensue.
Some couples get in to cycles of blame, pain and hurt because they believe the other’s
motive is always “you don’t care” or some other negative motive. At the bottom of
relationship problems is often an underline assumption that “my partner does not love
me.” When I counsel couples I see the “you don’t care” assumption in the relationship
acting as a virus that attacks the senses. Couples don’t see the evidence that their
spouse does care. The do not hear the words that reflect love and caring when spoken. They don’t feel warm, loving feelings anymore because they believe the person they are supposed to be intimate with does not care!
One of the things a counselor can do is challenge these assumptions and expose the
truth. The truth is usually that the other person DOES care, but past hurtful behaviors
have led them to believe otherwise. Once the truth gets established in a counseling
session it forces the couples to find a NEW ANSWER. If my spouse did not call to get
my car repaired and I BELIEVE they have no motive to harm—that they care—I am
going to respond differently. The conversation might go like this: “How come you didn’t
call the car repair shop?” Notice it is now a question NOT an accusation. It is a question because the NEW assumption is “I don’t know!” I do not know why my partner did not call. I DO know it isn’t because they do not care because I have already established that assumption is false. So I am left with not knowing why and I need to find out. The other person is now getting asked a question and may not be defensive. They may say, “oh no! I totally forgot to call…I am really sorry! I will call first thing in the morning.” Now they are in a place to move on to the next topic. The first scenario (the accusation) may have turned to one person driving off and sleeping in a hotel room for the night—after a huge heated blow up.
The bottom line is this: always challenge assumptions if you are not sure. My feelings,
my evidence from the past, my thoughts may tell me my partner just does not care and
even enjoys hurting me. Even with all that it is always best to challenge an assumption
before acting on it. I MAY BE WRONG. You may need a third party—like a counselor—
to help discover the truth about your assumptions. Learning to do this in therapy is a
skill that you can learn and implement outside therapy. It has extreme benefits not just
in all relationships, but also in dealing with other disorders such as panic attacks and
– Dave Chatel, MA, LLP