“Did you do something different to this pasta salad?” It seemed like an innocent question ... but I knew better. I knew it was my husband’s sneaky way of telling me how much I suck. Here’s what I heard:
“Did you do something different to this pasta salad? Because it tastes horrible. You know, why can’t you just stick to something instead of trying to change things up all the time? It never works. Just because you get bored easily doesn’t mean we all have to suffer with your squirrel brain. And while we’re at it, I don’t really like any of the things you make. Why can’t you just make foods the way I like them? And don’t even get me started on how you clean the kitchen …”
So I answered him. “No. The pasta salad is exactly the same as it is every single time I make it for you. If the rotini is too hard it’s because last time you said you liked it more al dente. If you don’t like it, you could always make it yourself.” I said in my snottiest, most sarcastic tone.
He just stared at me, blinking. I could tell that question did not go how he expected it would.
We’ve been married almost 11 years now, and we spent the first 10 years figuring out how to be married. Somewhere along the way I decided that I knew every single thing going on in his head. I knew the hidden meaning of every facial expression, what every sigh signified and the underlying meaning to every word he said. So, “Did you do something different to this pasta salad?” was, in my mind, definitely not an innocent question. I assumed the worst.
Maybe I was right sometimes, but assuming everything your partner does is against you feels like prison. So I took a big step out of his head and got back into my own life. It took a lot of practice and support to hold myself accountable to my new way of thinking, but everything changed. Because here’s the truth: whether or not your partner’s intention is good or bad, only YOU get to choose what to do with it.
And don’t get me wrong. These tips are not about turning a blind eye, hoping that by ignoring serious problems they’ll go away; if you're dealing with abuse or infidelity or something more serious, obviously ignoring it or wishing it away does not make it so.
This is simply about starting with the little things in relationships that keep us in a state of suffering. Because I don’t know about you, but I don’t choose prison; I choose freedom.
1. Don’t assume.
You can’t control what your partner does/says/thinks. Your partner can tell you anything he/she wants. The message is neutral…it’s the thoughts we have about the message that we get all worked up over. And if you just can’t help but assume, then…
2. Assume better.
If you’re not sure of the intention behind a message, you can always ask. That is definitely the simplest way to get an answer, but not always the easiest. Decide that no matter how the message was delivered there was no malicious intent behind it. Unless your partner says to you, “Yes. I meant that to be hurtful,” then you're just basing your reaction on a thought that might not be true. It’s not your job to judge the intention.
3. Pretend it’s someone else.
I can guarantee most of the things that completely annoy me about my husband wouldn’t even be a blip on my radar if someone else were to do the same thing. We put SO much into the labels we put on our people: husband, wife, partner, boss, kid, mom, dad … husbands are supposed to act like this, moms are supposed to treat you like this, kids should behave this way. All that does for us is put conditions on them and judge them for not living up to the label we put on them.
4. Use the "Practically Perfect" principle.
No, your partner isn't perfect, and neither are you. BUT! What makes him or her perfect for YOU? We attract our opposites for a reason. My husband is all about the details, and I’m the big-picture girl. That makes us a perfect team to work and play together IF we use it for good and not evil. We need both details AND big picture to be a successful partnership.
5. Know that if you’re wrong, you can figure it out later.
So, let’s just say that a few hours, days, months, years later you find out you were right after all. The intentions behind the words were manipulative. There was deception, betrayal, whatever. Well, then it’s time to decide what you want to do about it. You've been deceived and that hurts. BUT, you didn't spend the last however many hours, days, months, years obsessing over it. You went ahead and lived your life.
Don’t kid yourself by thinking being suspicious is going to save you from future hurt. All it’s doing is saving you from current joy.
Because maybe he IS just curious about the pasta salad.