It's no secret that communication is tricky. No matter who you are, how long you've known someone, or how much you've studied yourself or communication, you will inevitably have miscommunications!
It's truly uncanny how many arguments occur due to miscommunications. It's even more surprising to see how arguments can spiral out of control or into something far larger due to a minor miscommunication.
Today I'd like to talk particularly about assumptions and expectations that lurk in our subconscious without us knowing, and how they impact our communication, stress levels, happiness, and relationships.
First, let's give some examples.
It's very common for people to make hidden assumptions and have hidden expectations that derail entire conversations if people can't remain calm and control their reactions. And let's face it, we all have our moments.
I want to give some examples of some assumptions so you really get a clear picture here.
A woman says to her boyfriend, "Hey babe, you left the back door unlocked again. Can you please remember to lock it." The woman is slightly annoyed, but isn't sweating it too much. She knows we're all human and sometimes we forget things. She'll have moved on and forgotten about it in 2 minutes. Rather, she would have... if the boyfriend hadn't made assumptions and had expectations. He heard her frustration in her tone and immediately assumed she was super p*ssed at him and he feels attacked. He thinks and says, "Dang, am I not allowed to make a mistake without you freaking out?!" because in his mind, the person is very upset and possibly overreacting. You can see where this can get tricky. If both parties cannot remain calm, you may have a woman who feels accused of "freaking out." She thinks she's not freaking out and just mentioned it, because she wasn't even that upset to begin with. But now, she might get upset and say, "I'm NOT freaking out, stop acting like I'm crazy!" This can get spun out so fast it will leave both parties not knowing what way is up. Eventually, the man and woman might calm down and talk it through. The woman might tell her boyfriend, "I promise, I'm not freaking out. I am sorry if it came across that way. I just wanted to mention it so you can try to be more careful in the future. No biggie." The boyfriend says, "okay, I understand, I'll be more careful. I'm sorry for how I reacted. I just think you could have worded it better. You could have said, "Hey babe, this isn't a big deal and I'm not mad, but can you please be sure you lock the back door since it was open again just now?" And guess what... here we have an expectation popping up. There's no way we're all going to say things in a way that makes sense to another person all the time. So that expectation that someone will word something just so in order to not have the other person mistake them is not something that's helpful to place on someone. If he continues to expect this of her, he will likely continue to place blame elsewhere and not look at the fact that he reacted on an assumption he made because of an expectation he has of her. It's common and natural, just something we can really do better with if we're working on our communication.
Here's another example:
A woman is parallel parking and fails to go in on the right angle, so she has to pull out and try again. Her partner happens to think she's a really good driver, and parker. Her partner teases her and says, "your parking is... um, interesting today." and laughs. The woman is already embarrassed that she failed her first attempt and beating herself up about it in her head. She doesn't take it as a joke. She thinks her partner is really thinking that her parking job was bad. She gets mad and says, "well you don't have to beat me up about it." Her partner gets offended because they would never be hard on her about such a thing and says, "Jeez, take a joke. I wasn't serious." The woman replies, "You SOUNDED serious and now you're defensive!" And you can imagine how things might spiral from there.
Scenarios like these could take hours to fully resolve, or may never be resolved. If they happen multiple times in a day, it can drastically change the view of a relationship. If neither partner gets to the bottom of the miscommunication then long term damage can be done.
We can see in both scenarios, that an assumption was made about where the person was coming from and what their thoughts were that was not true. We can also see some people getting upset due to having expectations on how someone should react or word things.
But, the most important lesson here is that all of this could be avoided.
The answer is not that both parties need to have more clear communication in these instances, or choose their words wisely.
The answer here, is that the SECOND something someone says to you upsets you, do not react and respond. Take a breathe. Ask for clarification.
In scenario 1, if the boyfriend would have said, "Okay, I'll try to remember to lock it. It seems like you might be really upset with me though, are you mad?" The woman might reply with, "it's all good, I'm not mad, was just a bit annoyed." The boyfriend might feel relieved that his initial fear and assumption that his girlfriend was REALLY upset with him or was freaking out was not true. The entire fight is avoided.
In scenario 2, the second the woman thought her partner was being mean and thought she was a bad driver, she could have calmly said, "Wait, are you being serious or are you joking?" Her partner would have said, "Serious? No way!!! Just joking." and they could have moved on. Another scenario could exist in that fight as well, one where the woman still reacted the same way, but her partner did not react and get offended, and instead said, "Babe, I would never talk sh*t to you about your driving, I think you're a good driver. I was just playing around." The woman might feel silly, but they would be able to move forward a lot more quickly and easily.
These are just two small examples. There are infinite possibilities when it comes to communication. And if you have one partner that's quick to let emotions take control, that can also still be okay as long as one can remain calm. Fights can go from blowout and soul-sucking to quick and relatively painless with a bit of practice.
Take control of your emotions and question things without assuming. Never assume you know what the other person is thinking.
Try it out! The next time you feel a negative emotion surrounding something someone said, don't react. Instead, say to them, "Okay, I hear you, and want to clarify something. When you said x, y, z, I thought you were saying (insert what you thought) and then ask, did I mistake you?"
If you don't try something new, you'll stay in the same unhealthy cycles. You have way more to lose with the latter. So why not try something different?
And one last tid bit...
Even if someone is REALLY angry with you, know that it will pass. We all have big emotions sometimes. Give them space to have theirs, then discuss it. You'll grow from it, and your relationship will get stronger.