Avoid This Common Relationship Trap, We’re Begging You

Avoid This Common Relationship Trap, We’re Begging You
Photo: fizkes, Shutterstock

New relationships can be exciting, as you get to know someone on a deeper level and learn about their background and what makes them tick. Then, if you continue to be involved with this person, you’ll get to know them even better, including their goals, fears, and worldview.

This process will also reveal some of their less-than-desirable traits — like difficulties communicating, always having to be right, or an inability to set or accept personal boundaries.

Typically, at some point in the relationship, a couple may think they know everything there is to know about the other person, and as a result, start making assumptions about their partner’s thoughts, feelings, and motivations, according to Teyhou Smyth Ph.D., a licensed marriage and family therapist and adjunct professor of psychology at Pepperdine University.

In a recent article for Psychology Today, Smyth discusses what happens when people make assumptions about their partner, and how to avoid this common relationship trap.

What happens when you make assumptions about a partner

The first thing Smyth points out in her article is that no couple is immune to the trap of making assumptions about each other — regardless of how long they’ve been together. That’s because knowing somebody very well doesn’t give you the ability to read their mind, and understand the motivation(s) and underlying emotion behind their behaviour, she explains.

Not only that, but when you make assumptions about a partner, they can build up over time, resulting in creating inaccurate interpretations about the person, according to Smyth. These can then lead to resentment and/or unnecessary conflict in a relationship — all based on an assumption that may or may not be true.

Examples of how assumptions can be made

In her article for Psychology Today, Smyth provides a few examples of situations that could lead to assumptions being made in intimate relationships. They include:

  • Misreading (or reading too much into) facial expressions and body language.

  • Not communicating your thoughts or feelings about something to your partner because you think they already know (or should already know).

  • Believing that you already know what your partner wants or needs, instead of asking or listening to them. This also goes for drawing conclusions about their values, hopes, and dreams.

How to challenge assumptions in a relationship

Like so many relationship challenges, this one also comes down to improved communication. But it’s common advice for a reason: It’s hard to do. Fortunately, Smyth says that regardless of the length of a relationship, it’s possible for couples to make a conscious effort to retrain themselves to challenge the assumptions they make about their partner.

One way to do that, she says, is for couples to start asking each other meaningful questions that lead to a better understanding of their partner. These questions should be tailored to your relationship and specific needs, but if you’re unsure where to start, here are a few sample questions and conversation starters Smyth provides in her article for Psychology Today:

  • How do you feel about this situation?

  • How can I support you right now?

  • What would you like to see happen [in a particular situation]?

  • What is important to you? (either in general, or regarding a certain scenario)

  • May I share my thoughts and feelings with you about this?

According to Smyth, the idea here is to give couples an opportunity to address topics and have conversations that may not come up in their everyday lives. The key, she says, is for both partners to answer the questions with vulnerability, with the goal of addressing existing (and avoiding future) assumptions before they turn into resentment or conflict.

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