Most husbands and wives want to be known and understood by each other. Yet, when it comes to deep connection, couples often act in ways guaranteed to prevent intimacy. What destroys relational closeness and love?
We make assumptions when we believe something to be true that is either not true or is not tested.
It is not uncommon for people to make assumptions about one another. In marriage, though, many couples live in a mode of constant assumption-making. Husbands and wives unquestioningly believe that they know what their spouse thinks, feels, wants, and intends. In fact, the belief is so certain that these marital partners rarely feel the need to question themselves or their spouse. Assumption makers get it right… some of the time. Most of the time, they get it wrong.
Wrong assumptions damage relationships. At its worst, making assumptions can result in a form of relational “homicide” known as assumicide.
Acting as if Assumptions are True
A second destroyer of relational closeness and love occurs when we act on our “true” assumptions. A husband comes home from work and notices that his wife’s car tire is on the lawn rather than the driveway. He walks into the house angry, since “you really don’t care about me because I have asked you over and over not to park on the lawn.” A wife responds to her husband’s request to go with friends on a golfing weekend with: “you are going to do whatever you want to do anyway, so go ahead.”
When a husband assumes his wife’s motives and acts on his own assumptions as truth, his wife is put in the position of either agreeing with the assumption or defending herself against it. When a wife assumes her husband’s intentions, he either must agree or challenge her.
Defensiveness damages intimacy
The Apostle Paul, knowing our inclinations to assume the worst, gives practical relational advice in Philippians 4:8:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
When husbands and wives choose to think about things they know to be true and good about their spouse, they are less likely to make negative assumptions. When relational engagement has a “whatever is true” starting point, it is far more likely that the conversation will exhibit love, respect, gentleness, and kindness (1 Cor. 13:4; Gal. 5:22-23). To have a good and true starting point, marital partners must first suspend their assumptions.
How do we avoid committing assumicide in our relationships?
The cure is simple—ask questions. When we learn the art of questioning ourselves first, and honoring others with questions rather than assumptions, intimacy has a chance.
In 2 Corinthians 10:5, we discover something that Paul practiced which will also help us deal with relational conflict.
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
Before we are able to rightly question our own assumptions, we need to “catch them.” Our own assumptions are often unknown to us. Taking “captive” our assumptive thoughts is a skill we can learn that involves asking questions of ourselves to surface our embedded assumptions:
- What do I believe to be true about my wife’s attitudes?
- What do I think my husband thinks that is fueling my own emotions?
Making captive thoughts obedient to Christ involves evaluating our exposed assumptions against biblical truth. This skill involves self-questions such as:
- Am I bearing false witness against my husband in my beliefs about his intentions?
- Are my assumptions about my wife kind and respectful?
- Am I motivated by love and concern for my husband?
Thoughts that are “obedient to Christ” are thoughts that are true, loving, and right.
The “Connected Questions” Skill
I teach a skill to counselors and counselees that I call “Connected Questions.” So few people ask the type of questions designed to build relational connection. If they do ask questions, they hop from topic to topic and fail to ask more than two questions that build upon each other. It is almost unheard of for people to ask as many as ten questions, in the same direction, without commentary, where each question builds on the speaker’s last response.
Honest, curious, connected questions get to the heart
A good question is a short one—fifteen words or less. A better question is one that is open-ended and cannot be answered with a “yes” or “no.” The best questions are rooted in a true desire to know and understand and to promote increasing love in the relationship (Phil. 1:9).
Challenges to Getting to the Heart
Some people are more intuitive than others, and their ability to ask questions comes naturally. Others are less intuitive, and they struggle to know what questions to ask and how to respond to what they hear.
A commitment to learn the basic techniques of building intimacy—asking and listening—is a requirement for a successful marriage. Whether it comes naturally, or takes extra effort to learn, accepting spouses for who they are and encouraging and supporting their efforts to change are necessary ingredients for true intimacy.
Remaining Open to Intimacy
When assumicide describes the culture of a marriage, spouses feel justified in shutting their hearts to one another. Yet, love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Cor. 13:7).
To open a heart shut to intimacy requires a commitment to trust and hope despite the hurt that has been experienced. Such trust and hope reveal that expectations are realistically set and that failure for both parties is acceptable (nobody’s perfect!). Trusting and hoping also grows out of faith in the One who is always at work in the hearts and lives of His people to increasingly transform them into the likeness of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18).
Join the conversation
How do you respond when your spouse makes hurtful and false assumptions about you? What benefit do you think you have gained by making assumptions about others’ thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and intentions? What have you lost?