As the saying goes “To assume makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me.’” And there’s no place where this adage rings more true than in relationships. As you journey down the road from “me” to “us,” it’s easy for many assumptions to develop: some helpful, but some with the potential to cause problems between you and your partner. Sometimes they’re small assumptions like “He always takes the trash out and I always make coffee in the morning.” They can also be big assumptions, like “Spending time with our extended families is a priority.” But often the most harmful assumptions we make in a relationship are unilateral ideas about how we think the relationship—and our significant other—should be.
Many of these assumptions, if not examined, can unconsciously sabotage your ability to grow closer and enjoy each other’s company. So let’s explore five of the most common and potentially damaging assumptions. I hope that bringing these assumptions to light will help your relationship as much as it’s helped mine:
“Yes” is always better than “no.” I’m an extremely positive person, and so I tend to err on the side of saying “yes” before “no.” In many cases, this is a good strategy, because it makes you more open to new ideas, suggestions, and possibilities. But while this “say yes” outlook can be quite beneficial, it can also lead to problems if you don’t know how to use the “n” word when you need to. There are times when what your partner asks of you is something you just shouldn’t agree to. In those instances, you should feel confident enough to speak your mind. Your partner should respect that, and if he or she doesn’t, you might have a deeper problem to deal with.
Your partner can and should be able to read your mind. One of the most common relationship assumptions involves the expectation that your partner can read your mind. We all know this dynamic. Over time, you both assume that your significant other will be able to understand your needs or desires without your having to say them out loud. Then, if those unspoken needs aren’t met, you become offended. Well, I’m here to tell you that while it’s important to anticipate your partner’s desires to some degree, no one is a mind reader. Communicate your needs and expectations with words, not telepathy. And expect your partner to do the same.
You should spend as much time as possible together. I often refer to relationships as “a journey from me to us,” because sharing your life with someone else requires surrendering part of your independence. But in doing so, you also have to value and protect each other’s personal time and space. One of the biggest mistakes that couples make is assuming that they have to do everything together. When we fail to create appropriate boundaries within a relationship we end up smothering each other. Each of you should maintain your own interests, hobbies, and time to yourselves. The space you give each other will help your relationship to breath and grow. You don’t have to be together every moment of every day. Ask any retired couple.
There’s one true love. This is a tough one, because our culture—through movies, books, and television—teaches us that there is one true soul mate out there for each of us, a perfect person who will, as Jerry Maguire said, complete us. I’m a romantic at heart, but I don’t believe in the myth of one perfect “other.” This may be controversial, but I think that this common assumption puts too much pressure on your partner to fulfill your fantasy of perfection. The problem is that they will, at some point, fail to live up to your ideal image, and you will be stuck wondering whether you have chosen the wrong prince or princess. Discard this assumption and allow yourself to accept that your partner isn’t perfect, and your relationship shouldn’t depend on them being so.
Stick it out, no matter what. While I’m a big fan of sticking it out through hard times, there may come a time in any relationship when it’s best to cut your losses and move on—for the sake of both you and your partner. Some relationships aren’t built to last, and like a car or iPhone, have a limited life span. But for a variety of reasons—sense of loyalty, fear of hurting the other’s feelings, or just plain apathy—many couples hang on too long and drag each other down in the process. If you find yourself in this situation, have the wisdom to understand when a relationship has run its course and — if necessary — the courage to end it.