Benefit of the Doubt


We all do it – at least I think we do!!  We enter into relationships or we are already in those that the Universe has chosen for us (e.g., family and extended family).  We have long standing ways of communicating to our “people,” even making conscious decisions to interact in different ways in the multitude of relationships in which we participate.

The relationships unfold in their own time – sometimes quickly and intensely, and sometimes they meander and maintain a somewhat social, so-happy-to-know-you energy.  As time passes and connection deepens, we move into a relationship with others where we start to understand them (and they us — or so we think).  Here’s where it gets tricky.  My observation is that as we get to know others more intimately, we somehow stop giving them the benefit of the doubt.

As I got to know my husband better and allowed him to know me, I inadvertently saddled him with the burden of having to “know” how I would be affected by various interactions, communications and conversations.  I lost the ability to treat him with the same care and courtesy that I treated people whom I barely knew.  As I started to look at some of the ways our communication had deteriorated, I found that unlike the other friendships I was in, I had started to assess negative intentions to his language or behavior.  Admittedly, a more sophisticated version of expecting him to be a mind-reader, but there it was.  Ah ha! I thought and began to look at my other relationships as well – those with family and long-time friends.  There it was again.  The unconscious idea that they should “know” how “it” would be received had burrowed into the matrix of my daily interactions.  I had stopped giving those closest to me the benefit of the doubt.

I believe that human beings are real clue seekers.  We walk through life looking for clues to prove or disprove a hypothesis.  What I have noticed about myself is that in intimate relationships I somehow move from proving the positive to trying to disprove a negative.  Even though I know that the person on the other side of my communication loves, respects and values me, there are times where my own vulnerability undermines my communications and I start looking for clues about how what I know to be true is somehow untrue.   To be clear, I try to figure out why they don’t love me anymore.

Some time ago, I made a conscious decision to change that pattern.  I started taking my internal pulse when I felt uncomfortable or unloved.  I started to look at where I had been assessing negative intention to another and purposefully realigned myself to a perspective that honored and respected the person on the other side of the proverbial table.  When I felt frustration that my husband didn’t “get” me or acted in such a way that he “knew would irritate me,” I turned it around and tried to look at the situation with buckets filled with grace.  The results have been amazing.  I have tried it with others, too.  Girlfriends and family members who I thought knew me better where showered with the best of intentions and suddenly misunderstandings were cleared up and forgotten.  In that process, I also found the freedom to express myself fully without too much concern that I would make matters worse.

I am left wondering just how effective all of my interactions will be when I am able to see through the situation and focus on the best intentions of all involved.  What I believe today, it that we are ALL doing the very best we can on any given day.  Join me, will you?