Our thoughts have a profound impact on our emotions and behavior. The very thoughts about your partner, whether accurate or not, affect your relationship and personal happiness. Often times, these thoughts are automatic and unconscious as we naturally evaluate our circumstances. A simple misunderstanding can translate into a broad assumption about the kind of person your partner is, or your partner’s feelings toward you. This is what’s referred to as an attribution. An attribution occurs when one person attributes their partner’s behavior to a specific reason. Said differently, it occurs when one perceives the intention behind their spouse’s behavior.

Given that our thoughts occur rapidly and unconsciously influence our emotions, it is important to observe the accuracy of our thoughts and attributions.

Here are some important points:

  •     There are good thoughts, and there are negative thoughts, and it’s the negative thoughts that are often inaccurate and problematic.
  •     Assumptions are dangerous. Remember that neither you nor your partner is a mind reader. Your partner’s behavior and underlying intentions are best understood through open conversation.
  •      Some thoughts may be accurate, but it is important to realize that often when conflict is present, bias can set in and our thoughts can be skewed.
  •      When couples encounter hardships it may feel as though everything in the relationship is negative - the partner is bad, the partner seems not to do love or intends to cause harm. This can be an example of what’s called seeing through “dark glasses.” Everything feels negative, because it has become difficult to see the positive – the bad thoughts outweigh the positive thoughts.

·   Attributions are debatable. Consider an alternative explanation for your partner’s behavior.

The link between our thoughts and emotions can be understood through the ABCs: A is the Activating event; B is your Belief about the event; and C is the emotional Consequence. Let’s look at some examples of how our thoughts influence our emotions and behavior.

Example 1: Walking By

Activating Event: As Jason is walking down the street, he notices Aaron, a close associate, approaching him in the distance. Jason waves hello, as he walks by, but Aaron did not return the greeting.

Belief #1:  Jason thinks that Aaron doesn’t like him, and Aaron ignored him on purpose.

Consequence #1: Jason is upset (hurt, sadden) by Aaron’s rejection.

OR

Belief #2: Jason thinks that Aaron didn’t see him or perhaps didn’t recognize him. He views the interaction as an mistake.

Consequence# 2: Jason os indifferent. His mood is unchanged.

Example 2: Golf vs. Love

Activating Event: Terrance and Emily had been arguing off and on for the past two weeks. Having recently moved, they hadn’t completely settled into their new home, so they were feeling a bit overwhelmed. They decide to have dinner on Thursday night, the same day that Terrance played golf with a few friends. At dinner, Terrance was uncharacteristically quiet and preoccupied. Unbeknownst to Emily, Terrance had a poor outing at golf and was feeling down about his performance. Their conversation was cordial, but less than enjoyable.

Belief #1: Emily assumes that Terrance is disinterested in spending time with her. She believes that Terrance’s love for her has decreased.

Consequence #1: Emily is concerned about Terrance’s lack of interest. She is hurt and feels the need to withdraw in the relationship.

OR

Belief# 2: Emily wonders if Terrance is preoccupied by other matters. She knows that Terrance is passionate about golf and the move has been difficult for both of them.

Consequence #2: Emily is concerned about what preoccupies Terrance. She inquires about his golf outing. Emotionally she is neutral, yet inquisitive.

“For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee.”

Faith enrichment:  If faith is important to the two of you then consider scripture’s stance on the importance of thoughts. Proverbs 23:7 provides an example: “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee.” How does your faith inform the way you view your relationship? How does faith inform the way you view your partner? How do your thoughts about your partner influence your spiritual well-being?

When doing this module you will consider alternative explanations for negative behavior in your relationship. Here are some tips to help you retain perspective and grow closer to your partner: 

  •   Keep an open mind. Close-mindedness begets further misunderstanding and negative thinking. Be open to new insight and a different perspective.
  • Consider alternation rationales for your partner’s actions. They is more than one way to explain a person’s behavior. You may be surprised to find legitimacy in other rationales.
  • Consider your partner’s point of view, needs and desires. Even when your partner does something inconsiderate, is there a need or personal desire that is being fulfilled? Can you empathize?
  •  Refrain from assuming. Assumptions will inherently limit your insight. Even if it appears to be true, conversation is essential.
  • Focus on the positives. Identify the positive qualities of your partner and your relationship as a whole. This can be difficult when things have been difficult for a decent length of time. But barring that your partner is abusive or inherently mean spirited, there are likely positive qualities present that warrant your acknowledgement. Consider the reasons why you first began dating. Your reason for dating and your partner’s good qualities can serve as evidence against negative thoughts.
  •  If you or your partner is feeling discouraged, it is okay to take a break or consider alternative interventions. Each partner is challenged to consider their partner’s behavior in a different light, but this intervention is not intended to entice arguments or serious conflict.