I once heard a comedian with an East Indian accent say, “Don’t travel alone in your own mind. It is a dangerous neighborhood, and you will get mugged.” That is certainly true for me.
When we don’t have enough information, we will fill in the blanks, especially when it has to do with protecting our hearts. When we experience our partner behaving in ways that don’t make sense to us, we interpret that behavior from our perspective and make decisions about it, rather than communicating our confusion or concern and asking for clarification. Then, we act as if our stories about each other are the truth and respond according to the story. It can get really messy.
Learning how to communicate about your thoughts, concerns, needs is simple but not always easy unless you learn new skills. You can significantly reduce the amount of conflict and misunderstanding when you have the tools.
If this makes sense to you and you want to know more, please read what Matthew Fray has to say in his article, What’s Hiding in the Gaps Within Your Relationship? and call me, we’ll tawk.
There’s what we believe. And then there’s whatever is absolutely 100-percent true and real.
In the gap between our beliefs and Absolute Truth are the things that hold us back. Mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
There’s what we expect. And then there’s whatever actually happens.
Sometimes things don’t go as we expect them to. Sometimes that’s kind of good or kind of bad. Sometimes that’s very good or very bad. The gap between our expectations and what we actually experience is what determines how good or happy we feel, or how bad or upset we feel.
There’s what we think we know about another person. And then there’s who they actually are, what they actually feel, what they actually believe, what they actually intend, what they are actually capable of—sometimes bad, but also sometimes good.
What’s Hiding in the Gaps Within Your Relationships?
In a marriage or otherwise long-term romantic relationship, there is always (like, ALWAYS) a gap between what any two people believe about one another and what is actually, 100-percent true.
I don’t mean a husband thinks his wife is a manager at a local bank, but is actually a high-ranking government intelligence officer managing a team of spies and assassins.
I mean a more typical scenario like a wife who believes her husband likes her meatloaf, but secretly he thinks it’s gross like most sensible people who struggle with formed meat products, but because he—in an effort to be polite—doesn’t communicate his preferences, she doesn’t actually know.
There’s what you think he or she will do when you surprise them with a gift.
There’s what you think he or she will do when you dress extra-nice for them.
There’s what you think he or she will do when you tell them the bad news.
There’s what you think he or she will do when you suggest specific weekend plans.
There’s what you think he or she will do when there’s an emergency.
And then, there’s what actually happens.
Pleasant surprises. Crushing disappointments. The results will both delight and disappoint us to varying degrees.
You Don’t Know What You Think You Know
That’s neither an insult nor a judgment.
It’s a call—a please really-for more humility and more hope.
You think he’s never going to change. Because after all of these years he’s never changed. But. What if you did something differently to achieve different results?
You think she’s never going to change. Because the things she says that hurt you are only intensifying. But. What if she’s feeling INTENSE pain that you’re accidentally causing, and despite her best efforts to communicate that you’re hurting her somehow, you’ve continued to inflict pain over and over and over again in a way that feels intentional at worst, and negligent at best? Is it possible she WOULDN’T be saying or doing those things—is it possible she wouldn’t take that tone or act exasperated—if she felt loved, cherished, respected, wanted every day of her life as she believed she would when she accepted your proposal?
We believe things.
We believe so many things. I’m not good enough. He’s an asshole. She’s a bitch. They don’t like me. They don’t respect me. They don’t want to be with me.
And then we’re often wrong. But because we BELIEVE the thought or idea, we FEEL it as if it were true.
We feel anxious. Or angry. Or jealous. Or sad. Or stressed. Or afraid.
People who feel shitty—whether they want to or not—harm their relationships. Relationships are a resource for finding support and strength and hope and companionship during life’s most trying moments. But when the relationship itself is the source of life’s most trying moments, then people turn elsewhere for the relief, support, and hope that they need.
It’s an ugly little cycle hiding in shadows and whispers.
Everyone is so blindly certain that what they believe and feel is real and true, that we allow the gaps between what we think and what’s actually real to ruin beautiful things. Our connections to others. To ourselves. To what’s possible.
Kind, beautiful, decent people are married to other kind, beautiful, decent people.
They have kind, beautiful, and decent children, and kind, beautiful, and decent friends.
Everyone means well.
Everyone wishes for the best.
But everyone is human. They believe things. And not all of them are accurate or true. And operating on false beliefs, we just keep serving our subpar meatloaf to people who don’t really like it.
What might you be missing?
What might the people you love, mistakenly but understandably, believe that could be harming your relationship?
What might be possible if we begin to eliminate the gaps between what we believe about ourselves and one another with what’s actually true and real?
You don’t know it, but I love you. (Platonically, you dirties.)
The things that hide in the gaps aren’t things we realize are even missing. The things that end our marriages and break our families are things only discovered by asking questions we would never normally think to ask.
Our beliefs guide us on autopilot.
Our lives can break on autopilot.
Be different, please. Be more. Every hopeless and cynical belief is an opportunity to be pleasantly surprised.
Not because things magically change, but because we can intentionally do things differently.
(Therapists, want to know how to apply the Imago Relationship principles to your work with couples? My July Imago Clinical Training is open for registration.)