Cou­ples’ con­trast­ing as­sump­tions lead to con­flict

The Covington News - - RELIGION -

Ques­tion: My wife and I some­times get into fights when nei­ther of us re­ally wants to ar­gue. I’m not even sure how it hap­pens. We just find our­selves lock­ing horns and then feel­ing bad about it later. Why can’t we get along even when we want to?

Dob­son: To an­swer that ques­tion I would need to know more about the cir­cum­stances that set off the two of you. The best I can do is de­scribe one of the most com­mon sources of con­flict be­tween peo­ple who are com­mit­ted to each other. I call it ex­pe­ri­enc­ing “dif­fer­ing as­sump­tions.”

When hus­bands and wives en­gage each other in an­gry com­bat, they of­ten feel hurt, re­jected and as­saulted by the other per­son. But when th­ese bat­tles are an­a­lyzed ob­jec­tively, we of­ten see that nei­ther side re­ally meant to wound the other. The pain re­sulted not from in­ten­tional in­sults, but from the nat­u­ral con­se­quences of see­ing things from a dif­fer­ent an­gle.

For ex­am­ple, a man might as­sume that Satur­day is his day to play golf or watch a game on television be­cause he worked hard all week and de­served a day off. Who could blame him? But his wife might jus­ti­fi­ably as­sume that he should take the kids off her hands for a few hours be­cause she’s been wiping runny noses and chang­ing di­a­pers all week long. She de­served a break to­day and ex­pected him to give it to her. Again, it’s a pretty rea­son­able as­sump­tion. When th­ese unique perspectives col­lide, about 8 a.m. on Satur­day morn­ing, the sparks start to fly.

How can you avoid the stress- es of dif­fer­ing as­sump­tions at home? By mak­ing sure that you and your wife get no sur­prises. Most of us can cope with any­thing if we see it com­ing in time.


My 6-year-old has sud­denly be­come sassy and dis­re­spect­ful in her man­ner at home. She told me to “buzz off” when I asked her to take out the trash, and she calls me names when she gets an­gry. I feel it is im­por­tant to per­mit this emo­tional out­let, so I haven’t tried to sup­press it. Do you agree?

Dob­son: I’m afraid I don’t. Your daugh­ter is aware of her sud­den de­fi­ance, and she’s wait­ing to see how far you will let her go. If you don’t dis­cour­age dis­re­spect­ful be­hav­ior now, you can ex­pect some wild ex­pe­ri­ences dur­ing the ado­les­cent years to come.

With re­gard to your con­cern about emo­tional ventilation, you are right in say­ing your daugh­ter needs to ex­press her anger. She should be free to say any­thing to you pro­vided it is said in a re­spect­ful man­ner. It is ac­cept­able to say, “I think you love my brother more than me,” or “You weren’t fair with me, Mommy.”

There is a thin line be­tween what is ac­cept­able and un­ac­cept­able be­hav­ior at this point. The child’s ex­pres­sion of strong frus­tra­tion, even re­sent­ment and anger, should be en­cour­aged if it ex­ists. You cer­tainly don’t want her to bot­tle it inside. On the other hand, you should not per­mit your daugh­ter to re­sort to name-call­ing and open re­bel­lion. “Mom, you hurt my feel­ings in front of my friends,” is an ac­cept­able state­ment. “You stupid id­iot, why didn’t you shut up when my friends were here?!” is ob­vi­ously un­ac­cept­able.

If ap­proached ra­tio­nally as de­scribed in the first state­ment, it would be wise for the mother to sit down and try to un­der­stand the child’s view­point. She should be big enough to apol­o­gize to the child if she was wrong. If she feels she was right, how­ever, she should calmly ex­plain why she re­acted as she did and tell the child how they can avoid a col­li­sion next time.

It is pos­si­ble to ven­ti­late feel­ings with­out sac­ri­fic­ing parental re­spect, and the child should be taught how to do it. This com­mu­ni­ca­tion tool will be very use­ful later in life, es­pe­cially in a pos­si­ble fu­ture mar­riage.

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