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 Tips  on spiritual growth, emotional health, and relational healing.

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When We Make Assumptions

Mar 1, 2016

You’ve heard the cliché about what happens when you make assumptions?

It’s a cliché, but it’s also true!

I lived this truth recently. My wife texted me on a Friday afternoon about an idea to take our kids to the zoo on the following Saturday morning. I had plans to be out late with some friends on Friday evening, but I felt like she really wanted to do this and I didn’t want to say no out of selfishness. (I really just wanted to sleep in and have a slow morning around the house). I texted back “sure!” while asking if she could let me sleep in until 7am since the zoo didn’t open until 8am.

Things got worse when I didn’t get home until after midnight on Saturday morning, I slept terribly and our kids were up before dawn making a racket for all to hear. I felt terrible all day and really didn’t feel myself again for another three or four days.

My wife later asked me why I said yes to the zoo when I knew I was going to be coming home so late. I replied, “I felt like you wanted to go and were already set on it.” She said, “No, I was asking a genuine question. You assumed I was set on it. You could have said ‘no I want to stay home and sleep in.'” We then discussed that I fall into this mistake regularly, where I assume things based on what I read into within her text messages. (But that’s a story for another blog.)

As I became myself again, I began thinking about how my assumptions kept me from a better night of sleep and more relaxing weekend. I wondered if I had other assumptions which were standing in the way of a better experience.

How about you? Do you ever make assumptions which get in the way of better experiences? 

assumptions people talking in coffee shop

The Problem with Assumptions

One dictionary defines an assumption as “a thing that is accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof.” The problem with assumptions is that we take them without proof. If we proved them, they very well might be correct. But we don’t wait long enough to test their truth or falsehood. By then, we’ve already moved forward.

As I think about that definition above, I thought of standing operating procedures (SOPs). These are the normal behaviors embodied and expressed in work environments all over the world. Your company, organization or even your family has these. They are “the way we do things around here.” They are the things which when violated cause an unreasonable response. For instance, “No, the salt does not go in the front of the cabinet; it goes in the back!” Or “Why isn’t the copier working? Well, Bob is always the one who calls the repair guy and he is on vacation, so we just figured we’d do without until he gets back.”

I wonder if like SOPs, we also have SOAs (standard operating assumptions). Assumptions which drive our everyday actions, for better or for worse. I wonder if we have assumptions about our co-workers or supervisors, assumptions about our classmates, assumptions about our friends or family members. I think we do.

I recently released my new e-book, Forgiveness: From Myth to Reality. A huge focus of the short e-book is my effort to expose some false assumptions about forgiveness, including the myths we believe which keep us from experiencing the real thing. You can get a free copy for a limited time here.

Assumptions Undermine Relationships

I believe there are two root causes to many of our relationship challenges. One of them is assumptions (and the other one I’m going to post about next week). Assumptions cause us to miscommunicate (like my wife and I did) and get frustrated unnecessarily. Assumptions cause us to miss out on better experiences because we act on less than accurate information.

Assumptions save us time but they don’t save us from frustration.

Henry Winkler once said, “Assumptions are the termites of relationships.” If he was right, then the assumptions we make can be silently eating away at the foundation of our relationships while we remain unaware.

To help us avoid unnecessary frustration (or our house collapsing under us to continue the metaphor), I think we need to expose our assumptions and replace them a more accurate perspective.

assumptions medical

Diagnosing Our Assumptions

Several years ago, I heard writer and pastor Andy Stanley give a talk on leadership assumptions which I found incredibly helpful. Stanley writes and speaks about the subject of leadership as well as any pastor I know.

I’ve adapted some of his questions for this context to help us begin thinking about some helpful questions to ask to unearth our assumptions. For the sake of this discussion, I’ve contextualized all of these questions in the arena of a relationship.

What’s not working in this relationship way it used to?

When something begins to break down in our lives, it’s a good time to dig into the reasons why it’s no longer working. We could resort to blaming the other person or shaming ourselves, neither of which is helpful. Sometimes, an assumption which turns out to be untrue is to blame.

What are your basic beliefs about the relationship and the other person which drive your actions?

We assume that we have the same goals when we sometimes do not. What if our fundamental beliefs about the other person are shocking to them and actually inaccurate? Wouldn’t that help us to know? A huge part of a helpful counselor is to provide an environment to expose our assumptions and inaccurate beliefs.

Where are we manufacturing energy? Where have we lost our passion?

Because they’re often based on false premises, assumptions often all apart over time. Sometimes, when we lose our passion, we begin faking it or “manufacturing energy”. In those places, it is important to have an honest conversation about what changed. Maybe it’s time to let a tradition go or dig deeper into a larger problem.

What was our last misunderstanding? (i.e. Do an “autopsy” of what went wrong.)

If you were to go back on the last time you ended up in a communication breakdown, consider these two diagnostic questions. “In our last miscommunication, what did I hear/read you say? (and vice verse) Did they really say that or did I fill in some blanks?” In my text message conversation with my wife about the zoo, I read her saying something she didn’t. I filled in blanks with information I made up in my head. This happens all the time, even to the best of us!

We make assumptions in every arena of life – family, friendships, work, church, and social clubs. We do it a ton on social media, especially when we have just a few sentences, a picture or even just an emoji or two to give us context. Assumptions are dangerous and often cause us unnecessary stress and strife. We make them out of a desire to save time but they only multiply heartache. 

If you’ll dig into your assumptions this week, I think you’ll be surprised what you find. And I think you’ll find greater success in your relationships in every arena of life.

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