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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Assumptions in Couples' Communication

In a marriage where the two people have divided the household tasks and one of his tasks is to take out the garbage:

She says:  “Honey, would you take out the trash?”
He says, “Sure, I’ll get it done in a couple of minutes.” 

An hour later she notices that the trash is still spilling out of the trashcan and she feels angry.  

She criticizes him for his lack of cooperation.  He is amazed.  He was going to take out the trash.  She didn’t give him half a chance.

What is the problem here?  
Communication, of course.  

When he said, “A couple of minutes,” she assumed 2 minutes.  He meant he would do it in a little while when he got a break.

Clarification of assumptions can make all the difference in the world. Asking for clarification is an assertive act.
How the scene could have gone differently:

She says,  “Honey, would you take out the trash?”
He says, “Sure, I’ll get it done in a couple of minutes.”

She says, “It’s falling out of the trash can and I’m really frustrated.  When you say “a couple of minutes” do you mean two minutes or do you mean something else?”

He says, “Actually I meant I’d get around to it when I’m through with what I’m working on, but if it’s bothering you that much, I’ll take it out right now.”  

No anger, no fight, and all was resolved because she took the time to be assertive and to clarify the assumption she was making.
Many times when couples come into my office the basis of their struggle is communication.

Listen for assumptions in your conversations and strive to clarify the assumptions you are making.  

Even if you take these issues to therapy, you’ll be steps ahead by gaining awareness of the assumptions you each may be making.

Let me know what assumptions you find yourself making and how it works out for you when you clarify.

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