Transcript below from Marriage Steps Podcast Episode 9 on Stop Assuming The Worst In Your Partner.
Today I'm going to talk about developing accurate interpretations of our partner's behavior. This is important because so many people in marriage have false interpretations of what their partner's behavior means. Your partner will do something or say something and you have a reaction to that behavior and sometimes your reaction is accurate, but a lot of times your reaction is not accurate. So today's episode is all about that. How to develop accurate interpretations of our partner's behavior. One way to think about this is when your partner does something, think of that as an action. On the other side of that is our reaction, but in the middle is our interpretation of what their action means. And if our interpretation is faulty, skewed, or exaggerated, our reaction is going to be off. And this is what I see a lot with couples and I've experienced this in my own marriage. Again, there's a gap between our partner's action and our reaction and that gap is filled in by our interpretation of what their action means. Our interpretations are often influenced by trauma in our past. Some examples of trauma can be if you felt rejected in your past, if you felt controlled in your past, if you felt inadequate in your past, if you felt used in your past, etc. Our trauma lives in our interpretations. When you've been hurt before, your brain quickly interprets possible danger for self-protection because it doesn't want to get hurt again.
However, a lot of times our interpretation can be exaggerated or have no factual basis and we're projecting onto our partner's behavior and making a lot of negative assumptions. Our interpretations can be from things in our childhood growing up or things from previous relationships. One way to think about these interpretations is we have a hub, and in that hub lies our trauma. And that trauma has a belief system such as I'm no good or I'm unlovable, or I'm damaged goods, or I'm adequate, or I'm inferior, etc. A lot of people have a negative hub of some type. That hub is like a hub of a wheel with spokes and the spokes get activated by things in our environment. So if your partner does something, that can be something in your environment that activates one of those spokes and the spoke activates the preexisting hub. And that's why sometimes we can overreact to our partner because they're triggering something in our past that's influencing our interpretation.
So today I'm gonna teach a skill and it's called the truth table and it comes out of cognitive-behavioral psychology, which is one of the most researched based modalities in the field. I was working with a couple one time and I was teaching them this method but I didn't have a name for it yet. The wife said I should call it the truth table so that's what I call it now. The truth table has four columns.
Truth Table-First Column
The first column is the incident. So something your partner did made you feel something negative. That's the incident. The next column is automatic thoughts. So what was going through your mind in reaction to what they did. The next column is truth. And the fourth column is balanced thoughts. So it's incident, automatic thoughts, truth, balanced thoughts. I'm going to walk through this table with a hypothetical example and as I do, try to think about examples in your life that you can apply this to. So on the incident column, the first one, let's imagine your partner went on vacation visiting a friend out of state and they didn't stay in very good touch. They didn't text you very often, they didn't call you very often, and that hurt your feelings. So that's the incident. And then you have to write down what it made you feel. Was it mad, sad or fear? Those are the big three negative emotions. Mad, sad, fear. Let's say for this example, perhaps you felt mad at 80%, sadness at 90%, and fear at 60% You want to identify the incident and then you want to write down the top emotions you felt out of 100%.
Truth Table-Second Column
The next column is automatic thoughts and refers to what was going through your mind. So in response to their lack of staying in touch with you on this vacation, what started going through your mind? And again, this is where our trauma lies. This is where we start projecting and having negative interpretations of our spouse's behavior. Some examples for this situation could be "they don't love me, I'm not important to them, and they might leave me." Those are some examples of automatic thoughts someone may have in response to their spouse not staying in very good touch with them while they were gone on vacation visiting a friend. Now these automatic thoughts are usually pretty easy to identify because they're prevalent. They're right there and they are probably familiar to you because you think them often. So you have to capture them and write them down. We can't reason with our thoughts when they stay in our mind because it's murky water. You have to put them on paper to objectively and logically sift through each one to see if it's accurate or not. Some of your automatic thoughts may be accurate. However, for a lot of people they are not accurate because again, they're influenced by their past.
Truth Table-Third Column
The next column is truth. So in the truth column, we're going to counter each automatic thoughts with a more truthful statement. For example, the first automatic thought is "they don't love me." To the right of that in the truth column you could counter that statement with "staying in close contact isn't their strength, but they show their love for me through affection and praise when we we're together." So that would be a truth statement. The next automatic thought is "I'm not important to them." And the truth statement to counter it could be, "they tell me often how important I am to them and they constantly make time for me." You're looking for counter evidence to challenge the automatic thought with more truthful thought. The third automatic thought is "they might leave me." And the truth counter to that could be "they've never discussed divorce and frequently say how happy they are in our marriage." So those were examples of truth statements that could counter the automatic thoughts. Once you've done that, now you're ready for the balanced thoughts, which is the last column. By the way, the truth column can be tricky for people because they're not used to thinking that way because for them their negative automatic thoughts are their truth. So if you get stuck on the truth column you may need to pull in some objective people into your thought process, whether it's a trusted friend or a counselor, and share with them the incident and your automatic thoughts and ask them what they think. Another way to flip this around is imagine your friend has gone through a similar incident and they're having the same automatic thoughts. What would you say to them? Would you agree with their automatic thoughts or would you challenge their automatic thoughts?
Truth Table-Fourth Column
Now the balanced thoughts column is where you put it all together. So the first balanced thought would say something like this, "they don't love me; however, staying in close contact isn't their strength and they show their love through affection and praise when we're together." That would be the first balance thought because it pulls together the automatic thought plus the truth statement and combines the two with "however." The second balanced thought would say, "I'm not important to them; however, they tell me often how important I am to them and they always make time for me." So that's the second balanced thought and again, I'm just putting together the automatic thought than saying "however," and then the truth statement. The third balanced thought would say "they might leave me; however, they've never discussed divorce and frequently they say how happy they are in our marriage." That's the third balanced thought. It's important to write down these balanced thoughts somewhere where you can review them daily because you want them to become your new way of thinking. And that's not going to happen overnight because it's not how you're thinking already. Put them on your phone or on a piece of paper where you can see them regularly so that they become your new way of thinking. Once you've gone through your balanced thoughts, then you want to go back to the first column where you wrote down your feelings and you want to re-rank the intensity. What normally happens is when people work through these balanced thoughts and meditate on them the intensity of their initial feelings drop dramatically. For example, anger may go from 80% down to 50%, sadness may go from 90% down to 20%, fear may go from 60% down to 10%, etc. So this upcoming week I want to encourage you to capture your thoughts. When your spouse does something that upsets you, focus on how you are reacting to their behavior. What are you telling yourself? What is your interpretation? Write down the incident, your automatic thoughts, the truth, and then your balanced thoughts and see how it changes the way you think and therefore how you behave and feel.
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What do you think would help someone not assume the worst in their partner?