In his book about how to avoid human conflict, Don Miguel Ruiz suggests these four agreements that a person makes with himself or herself:
1. I will be impeccable with my word.
2. I will not personalize the anything the other person says, does, feels, thinks or believes.
3. I will make no assumptions.
4. I will do my best each day with the energy I have been given.
This post will focus on the Third Agreement, which can be very difficult to keep, in part because of how we are wired. Our human brains are constantly analyzing our environment and making conscious and subconscious decisions about whether or not a threat exists. Without this vigilance, we would not have survived as a species. Our vigilant human brains are also designed to categorize and sort, and then to recognize patterns. When patterns repeat, we give the patterns a meaning and define this as learning. This is how our brains are designed to work.
However, it can happen that when we recognize patterns, we give them the wrong meaning. We can make an incorrect assumption (which is the definition of a superstition). We get further and further from real meaning if we persist in believing and acting on our assumptions. This can create unnecessary misunderstanding and conflict, and it happens all the time, especially in intimate relationships. Rather than make assumptions, it is important to remain open to alternate interpretations and ask good questions.
One can easily make misguided assumptions even when absolutely sure one is right. When I met my mother-in-law, her home was filled with frog ornaments. For years, family members gave her frog-themed items for her birthday and Christmas, and she found places to display them all. After 10 years, I happened to ask her when she first started to like frogs. She responded, “Oh, I don’t like frogs.” All evidence to the contrary! I said in puzzlement, “But you have such a collection of frogs, I just assumed you liked them.” She smiled and told about receiving frog-decorated towels as a thank you gift from a guest. She put the towels in her guest bathroom, and the next guests assumed she liked frogs and bought her a frog ornament, which she promptly displayed. What was never true about my wonderful mother-in-law was that she liked frogs. What was true was that she proudly displayed the gifts she was given, to honor the givers.
In the relationship crisis of a divorce or break up, it can be especially easy to make negative assumptions about one’s spouse or partner, and express these assumptions directly to other people. A child once told me in tears about hearing one parent say to the other, “This divorce is proof you never really loved your family.” Making the Third Agreement helps ensure that children will be kept at the center and out of the middle.
Tagged with: children's emotional adjustment to divorce • conflict resolution • making no assumptions • productive conflict resolution • The Third Agreement