In relationships, it is extremely common for misunderstandings to happen. Even if we think we are communicating clearly, our partner may still misinterpret what we are trying to communicate. This is one of the most common problems in relationships. However, there are several ways to reduce misunderstandings in relationships.
Common misunderstandings that occur:
One common misunderstanding is expectation. This often happens when partners engage in “mind-reading” or jumping to conclusions. Examples of this including misinterpreting a partners facial expression and reacting to it before asking what the facial expression meant. Jumping to conclusions can look like not asking your partner to do something or not talking to your partner about something because you “already know” how they will respond or react. When doing this, you do not give your partner the opportunity that they will meet your positive expectations that they will respond positively. This can build resentment based on something that has not even happened. “Should statements” also contribute to misunderstandings. For example, saying to yourself “I shouldn’t have to ask my partner to do the dishes, they should just know to do them”. While we wish our partners would just do things or know things, by enforcing this statement, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment when our partner does not meet our expectation, which was not communicated. This also build resentment.
Another common misunderstanding is perception. Two people can hear the same statement, directions, or description and interpret it completely differently. In relationships, perception is more important than facts. There are three sides to every story in a dyadic relationship: Each partners perspective and reality. Reality is the least important aspect. Our perception is our reality. This very often created misunderstandings. We often operate under the “illusion of sameness”, meaning “I I am thinking this my partner is too” or “If I know to do this, they should too” or “I wouldn’t react that way so my partners reaction doesn’t make sense”.
A third misunderstanding is misinterpretation. This means misinterpreting a partners intentions. We often assume what our partners mean by certain statements or or behaviors, instead of just clarifying. Making assumptions about our partner can cause conflict. Misinterpreting your own emotions can also lead to issues. Our emotions are often a response to our thoughts and we may misinterpret anger about a thought we are having as anger towards our partner. This can also cause conflict.
Two skills that are important to minimizing misunderstandings are effective communication and active listening.
Effective Communication: Learning how to effectively communicate our thoughts and emotions can reduce misunderstandings. When we want to communicate something, we have 100% of the story we want to tell in our heads. However, only a small percentage of that story actually gets communicated. So our story makes sense to us, but not necessarily to the person we are telling it to. It is important to tell our partners enough of the story so that they can really understand us. How we tell the story, such as our choice of words, the structure with how we tell it, and our non-verbals are also crucial to effective communication.
Active Listening: Active listening is not just hearing the words our partner is saying. The first step to active listening is to put our own thoughts and agenda aside and really be present, listening to our partner with curiosity and really trying to see their side of the story. Active listening also includes feedback, such as paraphrasing, validating, and asking open ended questions. Paraphrasing means to repeat what we heard our partner saying with statements such as “it sounds like that was really hurtful/scary/stressful, etc” or “So what I heard you say is you want me to do the dishes more often?” This can help clarify what is being communicated and help your partner feel listened to and understood. Validating is letting our partner know that we understand why they think or feel a certain way. Validating is not agreeing with your partner, it is just letting them know that you understand them. It can be done using phrases such as “I can see why you felt frustrated!” or “I understand why you thought that”. Asking open ended questions means to be curious about your partners thoughts and feelings by asking more, using questions that can’t be answered with a yes or no. Examples include “Tell me more about why you felt frustrated” or “What did you think about that?” Asking relevant questions can let your partner know you are listening and care.
Appreciating your partners differences can help as well. Not blaming or shaming your partner is important. When your partner does something that you think is “wrong” or that isn’t within your expectation, think about a time when you have done the same. When you think about a positive quality in yourself, also think about that positive quality in your partner. This helps build admiration and respect.