Sunday, January 30, 2011

assuming the best

I've been reading a lot about marriage lately, and it's got me pondering.

Truthfully, I've been reading a lot about problems in people's marriages, and it has me running the other direction and thinking about solutions in marriages.

I've been thinking about what works in my own marriage, and one of the big things, I think, is that my husband and I have a sort of standing policy of assuming the best of each other. This eases a lot of our misunderstandings.

My husband and I are exact opposites on the Myers-Briggs. This means that we complement each other beautifully, but we surely don't think about things the same way. We often reach the same conclusions, but we get there by vastly different paths. So when we're working our way through some problem, there's lots of room for misunderstanding.

But we've developed the habit of assuming the best of each other instead of jumping to the conclusion that what was said was meant to hurt. From my perspective, this means that when Adam says something that hurts me, I remind myself that I know he loves me, and I ask him if what I heard was what he meant.

It usually isn't. I'll find that he actually meant something good; his thought processes are just so different than mine; I need it explained.

It's taken me awhile to learn, this waiting to get angry instead of getting angry right away.

Or, sometimes, this arresting myself mid-fume, and reminding myself that what I heard probably wasn't what he meant.

But I like this part of our marriage. It feels courteous. It makes me feel like I can begin to understand St. Paul's comment that love is "slow to anger". Sometimes if you slow yourself down on the road to anger, you never get to anger at all, because you have time to see that there's nothing to be angry about.

That's my experience anyway. And it's a skill I'm trying to apply to my other relationships, but it's really something I think I learned in marriage. So, I'm wondering if it's a personality-specific thing, or if this is something other folks out there find themselves doing. Or, do you find yourself doing something similar, but you'd describe it differently?

I admit, this is really just about feeding my endless curiosity about human relationships. So don't feel obliged, but if you have something to say, I'd love to read it in the comments.

I'm finding that the older I get, the more fun it is to talk about what does work, as opposed to what doesn't. :)

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell


MomCO3 said...

I love this insight-- that it is a skill. I think of so many relationship skills I have learned because of my marriage... like laughing at myself. But they are skills, not talents, that have to be learned and then applied.

Ma Torg said...

We call it "giving grace" in our home. The same concept: assume the best, not the worst and ACT under that assumption.

We also try to give each other breathing room during disputes. We process things differently and communicate differently when we are feeling passionate about something. This often can lend to further misunderstanding. So, we have learned to allow the other person to call 'time out' on such discussions and take the time, space needed to gather our thoughts and cool our heads.

One last thing I do is write letters if I am really upset about something. Usually the letter goes through several drafts before it is handed over (or sometimes not handed over at all!). It gives me a chance to intentionally distinguish thoughts from feelings and understand my own feelings and thoughts more about the item in discussion.

I guess I would sum all these things up in one skill: intentionality. Intentional communication.

Bailey said...

When our church hired four part-time people (including me) to replace a full-time position, one of the first things we went over was that we needed to remember that we were all there for the right reasons and we needed to assume the best of each other. We were not to be easily offended but to remember that the other person's motivations were good even if their actions were difficult to decipher! This advice served us well.
In marriage, assuming things is a bad idea, unless we are assuming the best of each other. Clarify!!
I have learned that I can never assume that I understand what my husband meant or what he wants; I need to ask him.

Katie K said...

Thanks for sharing this. You did a good job putting this concept into words (as usual =)). One thought I had after reading this was that assuming the best of your spouse also assumes that they are assuming the best of you- right? Does that make sense?

Anyway, Something my husband and I have talked about extensively is that we both feel completely ourselves around each other- our most real, true selves. We couldn't be "fake" around each other even if we wanted to be. This has lead us to the realization that there are few things we can even think of that either of us could do or say that would completely change our opinions of each other. That kind of trust and openness makes it easier to be honest and real with each other even when we don't agree.

Ruthie said...

We've had several cases of adultery lately in our church, so it's on my mind too. Great insight; I agree with Katie K that you're good at putting tricky concepts into words, making them clearer. I guess that's what a good writer does! All my "wisdom" just stays in my head, making perfect sense to me, but becoming muddled on the way out. A gift!

Jessica said...

Thank you, Ann. I think you're right: it is a skill. Do you think, maybe, we can hope that these hard-earned skills will become talents if we practice them enough? :)

Kelly, "giving grace" sounds exactly right. And the writing a letter idea is interesting . . . I don't know if it'd work for us, but I'll keep it in mind just in case. But it's neat that you've found what works for you; I think "marriage hacks" work best when they're specific to the individuals in the marriage.

Bailey, it makes so much sense that it works in other sorts of relationships too! Thank you sharing that example.

Katie, your comment just put a smile on my face. I love that you guys are like that! It just gives me that warm and fuzzy feeling to hear it - you should print out the second half of your comment and give it to your husband for a Valentine's gift. :)

And, yes, it does assume both people assuming the best . . . I'm not sure what you'd do in a marriage where you only had one person doing it. Hmm.