September 20, 2015

The Risk of Making Assumptions

Categories: DivorceParents

0In his book The Four Agreements, author Don Miguel Ruiz articulates four principles which, when regularly practiced, will enable people to avoid conflict and live a peaceful life. The agreements one makes with oneself are:

1.  I will be impeccable with my word.
2.  I will not personalize anything another person says, does, thinks or believes.
3.  I will make no assumptions.
4.  I will do my best today.

I teach my Collaborative clients about The Four Agreements and encourage them to read the book while we are creating their parenting plan.  I help them recognize when their words or actions contradict an Agreement and get in the way of problem solving.  I believe these are core concepts not only for effective interest-based negotiation, but for living a centered life.

One of the most difficult agreements to follow is not making assumptions.  When two people live together in intimate circumstances, they pick up many cues about each other.  Humans are wired to read cues and reach conclusions.  Problems can arise if the conclusions are inaccurate or incomplete, especially if the conclusions are not checked out with the other person. This is especially the case when people are in conflict and already feeling mistrustful of each other, as is so often the case with divorce.

In a recent client meeting while discussing a sensitive co-parenting issue, I observed both parents making assumptions, and then getting into an argument about their assumptions.  One parent assumed the other had become too absorbed with his own needs and was not taking steps to monitor their middle school-aged son’s homework and school progress during his parenting time.  The other parent assumed the first parent had made disparaging remarks about him to their son during her parenting time. Both were responding to their son’s recent drop in grades and negative attitude.  By making assumptions instead of asking questions, parents entered into a blame game that only served to escalate tensions and distract them from effectively understanding and addressing their son’s difficulties.

When I was able to talk with their son, I learned he was feeling overwhelmed by the demands of taking three honors courses while also dealing with the stress of the divorce and being on an elite soccer team (which he loved).  He felt he was letting his parents down, especially his dad, and this made him edgy and irritable.  With this feedback, parents were able to move away from their inaccurate assumptions, reframe their understanding of their son’s behaviors and, as co-parents, take appropriate steps to help reduce his stress.

Deborah ClemmensenABOUT THE AUTHOR
Deborah Clemmensen
Licensed Psychologist

Deborah Clemmensen, M.Eq., Licensed Psychologist was a child and family clinician for many years before her discovery of Collaborative Team Practice in 2000 motivated the transformation of her professional role from therapist to Neutral Child Specialist. This work---hearing the voices of every family member during a divorce or break up, keeping children at the center and out of the middle, and assisting parents in the creation of developmentally responsive parenting plans---is both a passion and a privilege. Find out more about Deborah's work at www.deborahclemmensen.com

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