Checking Assumptions Leads to Couple Harmony
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Christopher J. Coulson, UKCP. Positive, growth-oriented approach.
7th September, 2010
Switch on First
I'm standing with the suction hose in my hand, tapping the vacuum cleaner on/off button with my foot . . . over and over again. Nothing happens. No sound. No suck.
Then I grow angry - I didn't want to do this stupid job anyway - and I start stamping on the button. I wouldn't really mind if I broke the thing because then I wouldn't have to finish the cleaning and it would be 'its' fault.
And then light dawns.
When I'd changed sockets from one room to the next, I'd forgotten to switch on the power. (This will sound odd to readers in those countries where wall sockets are perpetually on, but I'm sure you're smart enough to get the idea.)
And then another realization dawns, this time rather painfully: I sometimes do the same jump-to-conclusions thing with my wife.
Instead of setting the expectations and checking assumptions when something goes wrong - in other words, checking that I turned the switch on - I sometimes launch straight into a frenzy of accusation and blame.
I can't say I'm exactly proud of this.
However, I do know that it is a common dynamic in human relations - particularly when under stress - so I'm not going to castigate myself too harshly for it.
After all, how many times have you 'blamed' someone for losing something, only to find it's where you left it yourself? This is a common occurrence, both at work and at home.
What's involved in turning on the switch?
The key to turning on the switch is to express the feeling underlying the blaming condemnation.
So, in the workplace, instead of demanding: "Where did you hide that blankity-blank report?", you might say, or even scream if you wish: "I'm in a panic and I can't find that report! Have you put it somewhere?" Then, your colleague would be conscious of your agitation and, while not enjoying it, might be less hurt by it than by an accusation that they had lost the report.
Perhaps at the root of this dynamic is the desirability of taking personal responsibility for everything in our lives. Then, as a trigger to turn the switch on, we simply need remind ourselves: "I am responsible for every facet of my life."
Our resulting behavior is then likely to be much more honoring of the other.
It also reminds us that responsibility works both ways. A person being unfairly blamed doesn't have to respond from hurt with a blast of righteous indignation. They can also turn on the switch by saying: "It's not like you to be so upset," [even if it is!] adding with concern: "Is something wrong?".
And harmony will quickly return . . .
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