No one thinks, feels or sees the world the same. For one, we all have unique experiences and stories. On top of that, we have differing inherent personalities and values that result in diverse interpretations, preferences and behaviors. As a result, there are no two people who are alike in what they do, how they think or feel or what they care about. And that, flat-out, means miscommunications in relationship are inevitable.
One couple fought about how much detergent to put in the washing machine, certain they were the one doing it correctly. Upon further exploration, it turned out that the wife was basing her decision on information from the laundry detergent box and he was basing his on information posted on the lid of the washing machine. From their point of view, they were right and the other was wrong. But in actuality, both were right OR both were wrong depending on which information source they subscribed to.
Another example of a simple misunderstanding is when one partner deliberately stayed out of the kitchen to grant their partner creative cooking space (he valued autonomy when he worked), while the other partner felt unsupported and left alone in the kitchen to do everything herself (she valued connection and collaboration). Each had a different set of values, which resulted in different actions and reactions.
Here is a common scenario we have seen several times when couples in distress take time apart: One spouse assumes that the (temporary) separation is just one step towards an inevitable divorce process and quickly moves as if single. Meanwhile, the other spouse hopes the separation will result in newfound hope for reconciliation and is shocked to later discover their spouse has been unfaithful. In this case, same stimulus (separation), but vastly different interpretations about what that meant (divorce vs. reconciliation).
Christian and I have our own fair share of misunderstandings too. Last night, Christian looked for me throughout the house and didn’t find me. He concluded that I must have been in our daughter’s room behind a closed door, and, out of concern for not waking up our sleeping daughter, chose to not seek me out. I was actually in the darkened family room, and when I saw him look in my direction and turn away, I assumed he did not want to be with me at that moment. Both of us made up that the other one was unavailable for connection based on erroneous interpretations and as a result, we missed out on being together for over two hours.
Misunderstandings are bound to occur in the best of relationships. And each one is really a call for deeper understanding. Because everything another person does and says makes perfect sense from THEIR world. When we have “walked a mile in their moccasins”, we see things from their different vantage point that suddenly has their behaviors, thoughts and feelings make sense.
So ask questions to help you understand the inner workings behind your own and another’s behaviors. Why did you do what you did? What prompted that choice? Where was your focus that had you walk over that sock in the middle of the floor?
Once we understand what is behind what we and our partners do, judgment, resentment and exasperated frustration can be replaced with understanding, compassion and even, on a good day, heart-filled laughter.