How Our Stories, Judgments & Assumptions Impact Our Relationships

Note:  More FREE parenting resources, including complimentary life coaching, available under the FREE STUFF tab.

I was recently on a jury for a personal injury case related to a car accident. Although the trial had nothing to do with parenting or relationships, once we got into the jury-room something fascinating (to me at least) happened: two striking communication (or anti-communication) patterns surfaced, with a vengeance.

Before introducing those patterns, I want to underscore two of the judge’s instructions: (1) Only consider evidence approved by the court, e.g., testimony*; and (2) Suspend expertise or experience in favor of evidence.

Pattern #1: Filtered Fables
Once inside the jury-room, we were eager to see what documentary evidence had been approved. Turns out, very little; just some dented-car photos and a chiropractor’s report.

What did we do next? Spend an hour detailing our own car accidents from the last decade. Based solely on personal experience, juror comments ran the gamut from weakening to supporting the Plaintiff’s case:

“I wasn’t that injured when I was in a similar accident.”
“I was hurt as much, if not more, by far less impact.”

One juror actually drew a diagram of the accident on a whiteboard, as if this visual, accompanied by a description of his car wreck, proved the Plaintiff’s case.

Clearly, the allure of filtering what little we knew through our pasts, and crafting stories based on those filters, was strong.

Filtered fables are activated when we presume our stories apply to everyone and offer a universal measure of truth.

Pattern #2: Guessing Games
When the trial began, the judge announced that the Defense had just declared fault for the accident (but not the personal injury claims). During deliberations, one juror decided this was an “11th hour” Defense-gesture that proved their responsibility for the Plaintiff’s pain and suffering.

After the trial, I asked the Defense attorney about this. Turns out, his client had accepted fault months earlier, but legal process dictated she couldn’t declare it until the trial began. No 11th hour; no admission of guilt about personal injury.

What pattern did I demonstrate? When the Plaintiff testified, he often responded to questions with “you” instead of “I”: You go to a chiropractor when you’re in an accident. When we discussed his credibility, I declared that his pronoun habit indicated he wasn’t telling the truth.

Yet, as I listened to others make a host of random assumptions, I wondered: On what did I base my opinion about his testimony? My answer? Um, on something I’d seen on an episode of Lie to Me. Seriously?!?!

Guessing Games occur when our assumptions are so familiar, automatic and compelling that we confuse them with truth.

If jurors engaged in filtered fables and guessing games after a judge instructed us not to equate our experiences with evidence, what happens with spouses or kids when there’s no one there to remind us that our truth isn’t the only truth?

How often do our beloveds say or do something, or not say or do something that we interpret via our filters? How often might we short-circuit communication or lapse into mistrust or conflict due to our misinterpretations?

As importantly, how often do we filter our children’s actions or words through our own childhoods, or through our adult experiences or assumptions?

The tricky thing about filters and interpretations is they’re often unconscious, so the first step in limiting their impact is to increase awareness by, for example, interrogating our irritation at things our mates or kids say or do:

 

What triggers us? What meanings do we attribute to triggers?

Once we’re familiar with at least some of our stories and assumptions, how do we loosen their grip? Here are two options for our marriages:
(1) Come clean and ask our spouse for feedback. Here’s a sample script:
“When you do or say [fill in the blank],  I assume it means [insert our story]. That’s my version of what’s happening. What’s yours?”

 

(2) Borrowing from a technique developed by Byron Katie, ask yourself:
- Is my story or assumption true?
- Can I absolutely, 100%, incontrovertibly know it’s true?
- How do I respond to my spouse when I believe it’s true?
- What might be possible in our relationship if I didn’t believe it?

Now take that story or assumption and reverse it. Katie calls this doing a “turnaround.”  I’ll use my pronoun-assumption to illustrate: When people respond to questions with “you” instead of “I,” they’re lying.

Here are three possible turnarounds:
(a) When people respond to questions with “you” instead of “I,” they’re telling the truth.
(b) When people respond to questions with “you” instead of “I,” it says nothing about whether or not they’re telling the truth.
(c) When people respond to questions with “you” instead of “I,” they’re being inclusive of others.

Get the idea? Write three turnarounds for your story/assumption. Then, choose the one that’s most empowering to your relationship. Didn’t think of an empowering one? Do so now. Then ask these questions of your turnaround:
- Might my turnaround be true?
- Might it be equally or more true than my original story/assumption?
- How might I respond to my spouse if I believed my turnaround instead of my story/assumption?
- What might be possible in our relationship if I believed my turnaround?

The goal isn’t to arrive at the truth; it’s to ramp up awareness of how we distill experiences and assumptions into our truth. Doing so helps us expand our ability to understand and communicate with spouses, kids…and everyone else.

*Subjectivity and objectivity were juggled in really interesting ways in the jury instructions. For example, while the judge advised us to consider testimony as evidence, she said it was up to us to decide whether we thought the witness was credible.

Note:  More FREE parenting resources, including complimentary life coaching, available under the FREE STUFF tab.

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2 responses to “How Our Stories, Judgments & Assumptions Impact Our Relationships

  1. Wonderful post. I have posted a link to it on the Flow of Well Being Facebook page. Thanks so much for posting this!
    Link: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Flow-of-Well-Being/112948305450837

  2. I’m so glad you enjoyed my post, Ruth, and thanks so much for posting it on your FB page!

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