Guessing Kills Relationships

This is an intentionally brutal statement, although it just so happens to be true. Guessing seems benign enough, so how can something so seemingly timid as guessing actually kill a relationship? Well, when we guess, specifically when we guess the meaning behind what another person is thinking, feeling, saying or doing (or has done in the past), we choose “thinking we know” over actually knowing. Then, once we assume we know something, we invariably halt our efforts to discover the truth. Instead of seeking to learn more, we may find ourselves reacting to something that may not even be reality. Why? Because we guessed.

Guessing blindfolds us. We interpret the behavior of someone and guess what it means. Maybe we’re right in our assessment, but maybe we are not. If we do not inquire, if all we do is guess, we will not know for certain. We may simply react to what we think is true, assuming that we know, assuming that we could not possibly be wrong. But, it never hurts to remember that, sometimes, even what appears obviously one way turns out to actually be another.

Once upon a time, the world was obviously flat. Just because something is obvious does not make it true. This is what happens when we guess, we witness what appears to be obvious and base our reactions on the assumption that we are correct. But what if we are incorrect? When we interpret reality, rather than discovering it, we are refusing to educate ourselves about what the reality actually is. We may feel offended because we interpret our partner’s disinterest in sex as proof that they do not find us attractive, when the truth may be that they are preoccupied with impending layoffs at work or are experiencing side effects of a recent medication. We may observe another’s impatience and irritation as a desire to not be around us, when the truth may be that they are merely hungry. Since we already know how destructive emotional reactions can be, why complicate matters even further by reacting to things that are not even true?

Reality is complicated enough. We don’t have to complicate it even more by dealing with conjectures and illusions as well. If something is not true, why bother getting worked up about it? Seems obvious, right? Yet this is what many of us do at times. We interpret things before we give ourselves a chance to understand them. And our interpretations are never exactly accurate. Every interpretation is, in essence, a misinterpretation. We don’t interpret things we know, only things we do not.

It is enough to either know or not know. We never need to guess. If we do not know, we can seek to discover through inquiry. We can gather more data. Why? Because whenever we guess, we’re bound to be wrong, maybe a little, maybe a lot, but always to some degree wrong. Furthermore, we most often interpret meaning, most often assume what is true, through the lens of our individual fears. Most often, when we guess, we distort our interpretations of another’s behavior and speech into some evidence that confirms our worst fears. We guess and then react. We might pounce at even the slightest evidence that someone thinks or feels how we fear they think or feel, even if it is completely untrue. For instance, let’s say that you fear your partner has grown tired of you. When they say, “I want to hang out with Bob tonight”, you hear “I don’t want to hang out with you tonight”—or—“I’m sick of spending time with you”—or—“I don’t like being around you anymore.” You might get upset or feel offended, maybe yell or cry or start an argument, all because you reacted emotionally not to what was said, but to your guessing the meaning behind it. If you think your partner wanting to hang out with Bob means that he or she doesn’t want to hang out with you, then okay. You can ask if this is true. I guarantee that if you discover that Bob’s mom just died and that he called your partner seeking support and companionship, your perspective is going to be a whole lot different.

Each time we interpret, we are choosing incorrect understanding over the correct understanding that is alternatively available to us. Instead of guessing, we can postpone our conclusions about something said or done and seek more information through inquiry. When we allow ourselves to be curious, we can ask thoughtful questions which will enable us to discover what is actually true. And, sure, we may react emotionally once we discover the truth (if we’re not perfect at giving permission, which none of us is), but that will still be better than squandering time and energy reacting emotionally to fictions or getting into disputes about things that are imaginary.

Life need not be difficult. Life can be easy. We can opt out of arguments. We can choose to manage our emotional experience, discover others for who they are, give them permission, and cultivate extraordinary relationships with absolutely everyone we encounter in life. Resisting the impulse to guess helps tremendously with this. Instead of assuming we know, we want to know that we know, because we have taken the time, and shown the respect, to inquire.