When you have been in a loving relationship for an extended period of time, you begin to anticipate that person’s needs, know what their favorite things are and most of the time, know what they might say or do or think. It helps you to feel loved and attended to when your partner remembers your preferences and acts on them. It is often how you feel when you are in love and there is a positive filter through which you view each other.
During a divorce, this knowing of the other may become more negative. Emotions are raw. It is easier to feel hurt, misunderstood and untrusting. You can forget the good qualities of the other person and see them only through the negative filter of the pain you are feeling and the need for self-protection to try to not feel more of it.
Curiosity about the person you feel you know all too well is often lost in the rush of emotions. It could lead you to believe you know their thoughts, actions, motives, etc. at a time when you are not seeing them through that positive filter you had in the past. Through the negative filter, everything looks bleak, frightening and predictable. It is crucial to ask yourself what you actually do know and accept that you might be wrong about the things that make perfect sense to you given your history.
The Sixty/Seventy % Rule
To illustrate the value of maintaining curiosity, I have developed the following rule:
When we have, or have had, a close relationship with another person, we are pretty good, as mentioned above, at anticipating their thoughts and actions. We are so good at it, we are likely to be accurate 60-70% of the time. Mathematically, if you are right 60-70% of the time, you are wrong, 30-40% of the time. Sixty to seventy percent of the time is a large amount to be right. Thirty to forty percent is a large amount to be wrong. More importantly, how do you know which group you are in: the 60-70% group or the 30-40% group? It would be difficult to know without asking if your sense of things matches the other person’s thoughts and feelings.
It also helps to be curious about your own thoughts, enough to want to know if you are right or not by asking for confirmation and creating a bridge to the other parent. In the event your assumptions are not accurate, it will help you to not feed your negative feelings about your ex-partner. You may still not agree with them, but you would be gathering additional data about what that person thinks about things now. It could be quite different than what you imagine.
There is a saying that goes “Just because you think it doesn’t make it true”. Our thoughts and feelings are not hallmarks of reality, they are very helpful, though, in teaching us what we believe, whether or not it is accurate.
People may state their assumptions as facts and also as accusations. This can derail a conversation that is not only important but deepens the distrust and often is a repetition of the feelings that led to the divorce.
For example, someone might say, “You don’t want to share the holidays with the children the same way I do. Why are you so selfish?”
When we make assumptions, accurately or otherwise, we can turn them into questions by stating them as assumptions and asking if they are true or not.
The above statement might look like, “I have a feeling you don’t want to share the holidays with the children in the same way I want to. I would like to alternate each year. Is that the same or different than what you want?”
When you stay open to the possibility that you do not necessarily know what your partner will say or do and you monitor your assumptions about them, you may be able to maintain a channel of communication that is less fraught with argument and disappointment. You may still not like what he or she is wanting, but you will at least not like it from the standpoint of knowing that it is what they are actually want.
Maintaining curiosity about yourself and others helps to keep you more grounded in reality.
Shendl Tuchman, Psy.D, is a psychologist and divorce coach practicing in Sonoma County. More information in her bio on the “Find A Professional” page.