Marriage Hack #2: Give 'Em the Benefit of the Doubt

When tensions run high in a marriage, it can be easy to play the blame game — pointing fingers and assuming the worst.

According to John Gottman, a psychologist and leading researcher on marriage, “The assumptions you make about your spouse and your relationship can determine the state of your marriage’s health.” The more negative assumptions you have about your partner, the more distance there will be in the relationship.

Honestly, I have to catch myself on this one all the time. When I’m holding onto old hurts or frustrations, my thoughts toward my husband are often negative. If he doesn’t ask about our older son’s OT session, I assume that he doesn’t care and I then create a whole story about it in my head. He doesn’t think there is anything wrong with our son. He thinks I’m crazy and that he’ll “outgrow” his issues. How are we so far apart on this? Why doesn’t he take this seriously? Why doesn’t he care more?

My assumptions quickly spiral into a series of negative thoughts, leading to rocky interactions and increased tension and distance.

So, how do I keep this from happening? Instead of making those assumptions, I stop, breathe, and give my husband the benefit of the doubt. Voilà! The shift in my energy brings an immediate decrease in tension. I put aside my judgments about his behavior and I ask him directly (and empathically), "What's going on?" This shifts me out of my negative thinking as I enter his world to reach a deeper understanding of his experience. The whole process brings us closer together and we feel like a team again.

Don’t get me wrong. This is hard to do when frustrations are running high and your nervous system is in a state of high alert. If you find yourself making negative assumptions about your partner, try to consciously interrupt the thought pattern and shift your thoughts to something else to keep them from spiraling. It could be anything: a song, an object in the room, even your screaming child (ha!).

Once you’ve interrupted the negative assumption, reframe it and create a different story around it. For example: My husband cares deeply about our children. He is so swamped right now at work that he can’t wrap his head around reading that article I sent him. I’ll remind him next week when his work schedule settles down and he has more headspace to devote to it.

Then, move on.

There’s no question I still need a lot of work in this area, but this has been so helpful in how I connect with and understand my husband.

Next time you catch yourself judging your partner, try these steps:

  1. Notice and identify the judgment- A is so forgetful.
  2. Stop and breathe- Ahhh.
  3. Shift your attention to something else- The giant pile of dishes in the sink!
  4. Reframe the judgment- A is more of a big-picture thinker, so details aren't his strong point.

Remember, we're not the only ones who have judgments - our parnters do too. The more you practice giving them the benefit of the doubt, the more they'll return the love and the closer you'll feel.


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