Hearing “Don’t assume” is a pretty common thing: Check your blind spot changing lanes; don’t assume there’s no one beside you (I saw that car accident last night on main street). Don’t assume it’s a new kind of cheese that has green spots. Don’t assume you can walk it off if your arm is dangling out of its socket. When it comes to physical things, people tend to be better at not assuming, but when it comes to interacting with people, we tend to do it quite frequently, especially with our spouses. The worst part of this is we typically assume the worst of people and not the best. For instance when people are rude to us, we typically don’t assume it’s because they’re stressed or overwhelmed or because they’re tired and cranky, which is likely the case. Instead, we tend to assume they’re a jerk and use it to further feel sorry for ourselves.
I find in the therapy office, after not affirming people (discussed in a previous blog on communication), bad assumptions are the number one reason couples fight. When we start a relationship, we tend to give people the benefit of the doubt, but that starts to change as unresolved hurt starts to fester. In many cases, the longer someone is in a relationship, the greater risk there seems to be of negative assumptions that our partner is trying to hurt us when that isn’t the case.
I was recently talking to a friend who shared a great example of why we shouldn’t assume. In order to better understand the hilarity of the story (it’s hilarious to me, but not to the woman involved), you need to first know that the wife in this story has an old toothbrush she uses to clean things including her razor, which she’ll use to dry shave areas when she’s in a rush. Since she uses the razor on her armpits (among other areas), it will have things like leftover deodorant chunks on it that will be later brushed away by the old toothbrush. This toothbrush is as gross as you’re imagining it to be. One night when the wife went to brush her teeth, she found there were two toothbrushes in the spot where there should just be the one. This didn’t make sense because she hadn’t started using a new toothbrush in the last week. She assumed the extra toothbrush must be her husband’s. She couldn’t have made a mistake; it must’ve been him (that part makes me smile because I know where this is going). The wife went to her husband and asked (rather accusatorily) if it was his. He assumed it must be his because his wife could never make a mistake (that part makes me smile because it includes sarcasm). Even though he went along with it, it didn’t make sense to him because when he checked, he had his toothbrush in his normal spot, too. He agreed, however, partly because she was so convinced it was his and partly because it wasn’t worth the fight. A week later, his wife came up to him half laughing and half upset because she just realized why she had the extra toothbrush the week earlier, and it wasn’t because it was her husband’s. (Do you know where this is going?) After a quick dry shave, she went to grab her old toothbrush to clean the razor only to discover it wasn’t where it was supposed to be. Why wasn’t it there? I think you know where it ended up… a week earlier. Their child must have found the old dirty toothbrush and after playing with it, the wife must have automatically put it in her normal toothbrush spot assuming it was her teeth cleaning toothbrush. Later, when she needed to brush her teeth, there were now the two toothbrushes. She assumed the old one was hers and the new one was her husband’s, so all week she’d been using the old dirty toothbrush as her own. Meanwhile, the husband had started using the toothbrush he was given because it was time for a new toothbrush, but because he hadn’t been fully convinced it was his, he disinfected it just to be safe. His wife did not disinfect the old toothbrush she’d been using. Why would she? She assumed she was right. The husband was thrilled to find he wasn’t wrong and thought the situation was hilarious… until it was pointed out that he had kissed her so he got second-hand stubble/old deodorant residue in his mouth.
This story only happened because both people made assumptions… personally, I’m thankful they made bad assumptions because it gave a great story, but I’m sure the couple learned the danger of assuming, especially when we assume the husband must be the screw up (this happens more than it should).
This week may you try to catch yourself when you make assumptions, especially when we assume the worst of others. The world is full of good people; let’s start treating it that way.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people