How to Stop Jumping to Conclusions

by Alisa on November 29, 2012

Yesterday I woke at 5:30 a.m. to get ready for a business trip into New York City. I was on the bus by 7:30. I skipped both breakfast and my morning coffee, not managing to eat or get a caffeine dose until noon.

By the time I rode the bus back home that afternoon, I was cooked. Fatigue coursed through my body and a migraine turned the right side of my head into a cauldron of pain.

When I walked into the house around 5 pm, the first thing I noticed was the kitchen, and particularly the dirty dishes still on the counter from the night before. I opened the fridge. It was still bare. This had been my husband’s day off from work, yet he’d somehow not found the time to clean up the kitchen nor go to the grocery store.

It was right around this time when my husband informed me that he would be leaving to meet a friend for a nighttime bike ride followed by a beer.

“She still has some homework to do,” he said of our 8 year old.

I felt that familiar anger and resentment brewing. My husband is selling his business. Soon he will be home to be a full-time dad. If you’ve read my memoir Project: Happily Ever After then you know that we’ve tried this before, twice. One time I encouraged my husband to quit a soul-sucking, dead end job. Another time he got laid off and spent roughly two years deciding what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. Long story short: me being the sole money earner and him taking care of the house hadn’t quite worked out. Both ventures had resulted in him riding his bike a lot, him going out with his buddies a lot, and him sleeping in a lot.

And you might say I was resentful a lot.

As I stared at those dirty dishes still on the counter, I couldn’t help but think: “Here comes round number 3.”

“Is this your second bike ride of the day?” I asked, trying to sound as if I was just making conversation but not quite masking the anger in my voice.

“No,” he said, sounding both surprised and quite innocent.

“What did you do today?” I asked, again trying to sound as if I was just making conversion, but failing miserably at the task.

“I spent the day getting my car inspected,” he said.

Oh. Now, this wasn’t what I had assumed, was it?

We only have one car right now. The engine blew up on my car a while back. For many weeks, we’ve been sharing his car, which is a very old and persnickety BMW. By persnickety, I mean this: It’s the type of car that is fairly reliable if you ignore the fact that the check engine light is constantly lit, the car doesn’t like to shift into second gear when it’s cold outside, the trunk is either stuck closed or stuck open, the driver’s seat belt sometimes won’t fully recoil or extend, other seat belts don’t work at all, and the battery is constantly being drained by some other issue that I don’t understand, causing my husband to plug his car into an electric outlet every single evening and occasionally causing someone, usually him, to ask people to push his car while he attempts a rolling start.

Getting this car to pass inspection was no minor feat.

You might say I was humbled.

I’d jumped to conclusions, and I’d been wrong.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? Can you change some of the details and come up with the same end result—anger or resentment that surfaced over a misunderstanding? When I look back over my marriage, I sure can. Here are three steps that can stop such misplaced resentment from turning into a fight:

  1. Remind yourself that your past is not your present. People change. They grow. They learn. They adapt. You change, and so does your spouse. Just because your spouse behaved a certain way in the past doesn’t mean your spouse is behaving that way now.
  2. Seek to understand. Pretend you are a detective or a journalist. Before you cast judgment, gather all the facts. Don’t assume you know why your spouse did or did not do something. Ask.
  3. Commit your new understanding to memory. I could have beat myself up over jumping to conclusions. I could have felt guilty and allowed myself to stew in all sorts of emotional self-abuse. Instead, however, I decided to learn from the encounter. I told myself, “This is evidence that he’s not the goof-off that you assume him to be. Remember this next time you are tempted to jump to such a conclusion.”

What causes you to jump to conclusions? How do you stop yourself? What advice can you share with others?

About November’s Reader of the Month Sponsor: Maggie Reyes believes living the life you love with the love of your life is possible when you learn to ask powerful questions that shift your thinking and transform your experiences with your spouse. She is a Blogger and Life Coach at Modern Married and posts daily on Facebook here. For strategies on how to kick the holiday overwhelm habit download her free Teleclass “The Gift of Peace” here.

A professional journalist, Alisa Bowman is the author of Project: Happily Ever After, a memoir of how she saved her marriage, and coauthor of Pitch Perfect, a must-read if you've ever had a sense of dread tie up your insides before a speech, presentation, or conversation. If you enjoyed this post, you will no doubt love her updates on Facebook and Twitter.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Sheryl November 29, 2012 at 11:49 am

I often find that I write my own script…which is, I guess, another version of jumping to conclusions. Sometimes I’m right – but most times, I’m wrong. You’d think I’d learn.

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JohnMcG November 29, 2012 at 12:17 pm

I tell myself (and I think Alisa used to tell herself) that *not* asking was the most compassionate response, since asking could be perceived as itself judgmental. Just assume your spouse had a good reason for not accomplishing what you would have preferred he/she accomplish during the day. I’m not the judge of what he/she does on a day-to-day basis. I don’t know completely what his/her day is like. Just assume the best.

Then it happens again. And again. And again.

And the resentment builds. And builds. And builds.

And if she ever dares to judge me, I have the perfect trump card to play about how I come home every day to a sink full of dirty dishes and a question about what’s for dinner and don’t raise a peep.

What Alisa has learned (and I’m still trying to get better at) is that checking our assumptions is more compassionate than silently judging it. It’s better to ask what your spouse was up to all day in a non-judgmental way, even at the risk of coming off as a but judgmental, then to silently judge them.

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John November 29, 2012 at 6:02 pm

Something’s still not right here.

I dont have the full details, but I hate to admit it, since I am male, I’m still not comfortable with all the pieces of the scenario u’ve laid out.

Next time maybe nudge him to help with the homework while u cleanup. He’ll be riding again the next day, right?

Ps: r u making excuses 4 him?

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Thinktov December 3, 2012 at 9:32 am

Sorry Alisa, I have to agree with John on this one.
“Something is still not right.”
Personally, I don’t see any problem with, “Hi honey, I’m home. Wow what a long day I had. I am so tired, I just need a few minutes to rest. Is it possible for you to clean the dishes or help her finish doing her homework please. I know you have a bike ride with your friend but I’m your wife and I’m asking you for help. I’m sure he’ll understand.” or “surely, you wouldn’t want the love of your life to start washing dishes and helping with homework right after I came home from an incredibly difficult day while you’re out riding your bike and drinking beers, would you.” “obviously your good friend will understand if you let him know you’ll be a few minute late.”
-Gavriel

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Alisa December 3, 2012 at 9:36 am

Hey everyone–I’m in the middle of migrating my site to yet another web host. In the process it looks like we’ve lost about 15 comments for this post–and it was a great discussion! I’m not sure I can recreate them or even find them, so I’m just putting this note here in case anyone pops in and wonders why their comment went missing.

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Daina December 8, 2012 at 7:28 am

Ack!! I got slapped in the face with a reminder of this post yesterday- in a good way! I went from 0 to 60 in a matter of seconds, not even stopping to think about an alternative!

My husband said he was going to take a half day yesterday and leave work at noon. He was doing this because he was going to do some shopping for needy kids that his office was sponsoring for the holidays. We often email each other every few hours while we are both at work, and after 12:30PM I didn’t hear from him, so I assumed he left for the day. After my work day, I headed home, but before doing that I sent him a text asking, “Are you home?” I figured he had been out shopping for 4+ hours, and I know that is moree than he can stand. He didn’t reply. About half way home, I started jumping to conclusions. “Why didn’t he repl? What was he out doing that was so important, that we couldn’t even reply to his wife?” Or better yet, “WHO was he out doing?” (We have a bit of an ugly history there that we are trying to work through.) I was sure he was out there, being unfaithful, thinking that this was his opportunity to get away from me and not get caught, because I work an hour away. I waited at home for an hour and a half and didn’t hear from him. My blood pressure was through the roof, I was sweating and making plans to call the locksmith to come and change the locks. I was just sure he was up to no good. He finally came home, and doing my best to stay calm and to not start throwing things at him, I asked, “how was shopping?” My husband looked at me and said, “Shopping? I was so busy at work this afternoon that I never even left my desk.” I felt like an idiot!. That possibility never crossed my mind! I looked up at the clock and realized, “Yeah, this is just about the time he usually gets home….” THANKFULLY I did NOT react like a raving lunatic. I remembered this post when he walked in the door and kept telling myself, “Calm down and “just ask”, “JUST ASK!” So THANKS, Alisa, you saved me from a really UGLY evening!! Instead of spending the evening screaming at each other, we went out and had dinner and then I helped him do the shopping!

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Sonia at EssentialPractice December 11, 2012 at 1:32 pm

I liked your post. Good stuff. I believe people jump to conclusion ( both woman and men) because they don’t take the time to “ASK” first. For example ask your partner how they feel, what’s going on in their mind. We marry someone out of love and respect (I like to think so) and also because we want to share a life with them. It’s not about who’s right or wrong, who does more or less. If you feel your partner is not putting in their effort than speak to them and tell me how you feel and listen to their response. Communication is the key to a healthy and sucssesful marriage.
Kindly,
Sonia

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