If jumping to conclusions were a valued skill in work or life, it would likely make up most of my résumé. As someone who’s been in a long-term relationship, dramatic (and hot) flings, and is now navigating the uncharted territory of dating during quarantine, I know firsthand how easy it is to make assumptions in relationships at any and every stage. In fact, according to one expert, the most common assumptions in relationships that people make are ripe to happen at all phases—and they almost always hold the potential to be damaging.
That commonality? It has to do with the prescribed “roles” each partner takes on and how those roles reinforce the ideal and convenient narrative of the relationship. “For instance, say you mention you don’t really mind folding laundry, or your partner says they don’t mind emptying the dishwasher,” says Caitlin Killoren, a relationship-theory researcher and writer at relationship-training app Relish. “It might be tempting to fall into a rhythm where you each do the same things, again and again, and that might work for you—but it also might get really old.”
This is applicable to emotional roles as well. “If you’re the ‘late one,’ your partner might get tired of rushing you to leave the house. Or if they’re the ‘planner,’ they might get tired of always being saddled with logistics for trips and vacations. [That’s why it’s important that you] don’t let either of your roles morph into your identity,” she says.
If you’ve found that—whoops—you’re already there, making assumptions that dictate your relationship dynamic too rigidly, Killoren says it’s important to have a dialogue around it because the roles you’re in at any given moment in your relationship aren’t permanent. Below, she shares her tips for not jumping to conclusions or making damaging assumptions in any stage of a relationship.
When you’re crushing hard
So you’ve gone out on a few amazing video dates, sent your friends screenshots of their cute texts, and have stopped texting your mom to ask her if you’re going to die alone. That’s great, but try to not get ahead of yourself. “It’s easy to make assumptions in the beginning of a relationship based solely off the vibes you’re getting from the other person, but that can be misleading,” Killoren says. “Just because the first few dates go well, don’t operate under the assumption that you’re both on the same page.”
“Just because the first few dates go well, don’t operate under the assumption that you’re both on the same page.” —Caitlin Killoren, relationship-theory researcher
Whether the assumptions guiding your hopeful energy have to do with a sense of monogamy, intimacy, future goals, general attraction, or anything else, the best way to protect your feelings and have an understanding of how the other party feels is to stay in communication. As a bonus, communicating effectively early on will only set the stage for healthy habits into the relationship if it continues.
When you’re in a committed relationship
Maybe you live together and co-parent a dog, and you think you know pretty much everything about each other. True as that may be, at this stage of the relationship, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that you know where your partner stands on bigger-picture issues, like children, finances, and where to settle down (if settling down at all is in the cards).
“These are dangerous [assumptions] because you can easily assume you know what your partner wants—you know so many other things about them. But the best way to find out what they want is to ask them,” says Killoren. “And not just once, either. Your future will change as your present does, so keep checking in periodically to make sure you’re still on the same page.”
When your relationship is fully long-term
“Assumptions in long-term relationships can vary widely depending on issues specific to each couple,” Killoren says. In broader terms, these conclusions likely involve getting too comfortable (or, as Killoren says, “lazy”) and assuming that your partner’s needs are being met. If you get too comfortable and stop actively checking in, you run the risk of your partner’s needs not being met and the relationship suffering, perhaps even terminally, as a result.
“Keep these assumptions from affecting your relationship by taking pulse checks often and sincerely. Ask each other things like “How happy are you right now?” and “Is our life better or worse than you imagined it would be?” Be an empathetic listener, and don’t be afraid to receive critiques,” Killoren says. “[Critiques are] a gift that allows you and your partner to keep improving your relationship every day.”
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