I read a post this morning by Matt on You Must Be This Tall to Ride that got me thinking about assumptions. Assumptions, both intentional and otherwise, have played a major role in my healing and my view on relationships.
We make assumptions to fill in gaps in information. Our brains hate these voids and they seek to fill them with what makes sense to us and aligns with our views of ourselves and the world (related: How to Apply Labels). At the end of a relationship, these assumptions can take three main forms: Self Blame, Other Blame and Compassion.
This is often where the depression after a breakup can come into play. You see yourself as broken, defective. You assume that bad things happen to you because you are somehow bad. Or weak. Or unlovable.
In my case, I went through periods where I assumed he left because I was too horrible to be with. I believed that I must have done something so terrible that he had to lie and leave. These beliefs were fed by others who asked what I did to cause him to respond in such a way and, most painfully, these assumptions were reinforced by the suicide (attempted) email he sent my mom and his other wife. He wanted me to assume full blame and, for a time, I did. I believed I was unlovable.
Self blame is a slippery slope. Others often encourage it. The more you look for it, the more it is reinforced. It can have an element of martyrdom, “I sacrificed myself…” Taking responsibility is good; assuming all culpability, however, retards healing.
These are the assumptions that hold us in the victim role. This is where we assume that the intent of the other is to inflict harm and that every action has a malignant motivation.
I was an expert in this one. I assumed he carefully crafted his deceptions solely to harm me. I pictured him calculating the most painful responses, the most hurtful actions and then carrying them out while delighting in my pain. I assumed that he must have some sort of personality disorder and that he was incapable of empathy or pain of his own. I believed that he never loved me and that he was simply a puppet master for 16 years.
It’s interesting and upsetting for me to realize that I even acted this way at times within the marriage. If he did something “wrong” (like forgetting to let the dogs out), I assumed it was intentional. I held both of us to such standards that mistakes were not allowed. Ouch.
Other blame is comfortable. It preserves our own self worth while avoiding any responsibility. It’s a self-feeding cycle that can be difficult to break. But just like assuming all responsibility does not allow healing, avoiding it also keeps you stuck.
Assumptions are made when we lack knowledge or understanding. As information comes in, it is important to release or readjust the assumptions. At the end of a relationship, it is easy to picture your ex as your adversary, attacking with a sharpened blade. That blade is often double-edged, harming each partner in its own way.
In my case, I have never had a conversation with my ex to hear his side. I don’t expect I ever will. I have had to fill in the gaps, acquire the information on my own, in order to try to adjust my maladaptive assumptions. (related: Forgiveness 101)
Instead of talking to him, I have listened to the stories of others. Asked questions. And listened to responses.
With each new piece, I adjusted my assumptions.
I now assume that his troubles were rooted in childhood and triggered by the loss of a job and subsequent earning potential.
I now assume that he struggled with addiction in some form that possibly started with the job loss or even before.
I now assume that he did love me. But now I know that love for another is not enough.
I now assume that he was in pain. Lost. Scared. It doesn’t excuse his choices, but it helps me to understand them.
None of those may be true. But it doesn’t really matter. Rather than place blame, they bring compassion. Peace. Understanding.
If I find out more information, I will adjust them again. However, for now, those assumptions are fine. Balanced. Rooted in understanding rather than blame.
I have also softened quite a bit in my new marriage. When I make assumptions of intent, I err on the side of compassion. If Brock forgets something, I first inquire about stress at work or worry about a friend. It’s not always on point, but it does no harm to assume the positive while you’re gathering information.
The saying is that assumptions make an ass out of you and me. They certainly can. But only if you are as stubborn as an ass and refuse to alter your assumptions with time and knowledge.
What’s more important to you – holding on to your assumptions or finding peace?
I thought so:)