Five Assumptions that Will Damage Your Marriage

Ashley-and-Dan-BushEditor’s note: Ashley Davis Bush, LICSW, and Daniel Arthur Bush, PhD, are co-authors of 75 Habits for a Happy Marriage. Their continuing education presentation for GoodTherapy.org, titled Helping Couples Connect When Life Is Pulling Them Apart, is scheduled for 9 a.m. PDT on September 13. The event is good for 1.5 CE credits and is available at no cost to GoodTherapy.org members. For details, or to register, please click here.

“Melissa” and “George” have been married for 19 years. Nine years ago, George’s excessive drinking had led to a separation. George admitted to his addiction and checked himself into a rehabilitation center. They reunited after six months, and George has been sober ever since.

They were in my office now because Melissa was feeling unfulfilled in their marriage. George had reluctantly agreed to come. “It’s not like I’m drinking anymore” he said, “so really, we’re fine.”

That’s when I heard the first damaging assumption: “Things are OK as long as there aren’t any BIG problems, such as addiction, adultery, or abuse. WRONG. Certainly, those issues are significant, but marriages fall apart on far less. Bad habits such as under-appreciation, frequent exits, chronic complaining, and gradual distancing are the more frequent causes of death for a marriage. The four horsemen of John Gottman’s book, 7 Principles for Making Your Marriage Work, speak directly to this assumption.

In the course of the intake, I asked George if he loved Melissa. Melissa looked up expectantly, waiting for his answer. He replied, “Well, sure, she knows that I do. It’s not like I need to tell her every day.” Melissa sat back, deflated.

That’s when I heard the second damaging assumption: “My spouse knows that I love him/her. I don’t need to say it regularly. WRONG. An important part of being in a romantic relationship is making sure that your partner knows, every single day, that you love him or her. Some people want to know this in words; others prefer that the message is communicated by actions or touch. Know how your partner wishes to receive your love message. This assumption is the topic of Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages.

Melissa and George had arrived at a place in their marriage where they simply didn’t understand where the other was coming from. They both felt stuck and unappreciated.

They were also holding on to the third relationship-eroding assumption: “My partner must have the same emotional needs and communication style as I do.” We all have unique neurological, biological, and social differences. And there are some dramatic differences between men and women in how they cope with stress, communicate their feelings, and get their intimacy needs met. Acknowledging and accepting the ways in which your partner is different from you is a crucial step in making your relationship work. John Gray has helped millions drop this assumption through his book, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus.

It was the collapse of the fourth and fifth assumptions that finally brought this couple to counseling. But other couples need to be on guard. The fourth common damaging assumption is: “I know how my partner is feeling about our relationship.” MAYBE, but you need to find out for sure. Just because he or she isn’t complaining all the time doesn’t mean he/she is satisfied. Take up the habit of asking your partner: “Are you happy in our marriage?” “Is there anything that I can do to be a better partner?” Don’t wait until your partner drags you to marriage counseling to discover that he or she is unsatisfied. Conscious Loving, by Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks, is an example of a book dedicated to communication antidotes to this crippling assumption.

The fifth relationship-damaging assumption is: “We will never get divorced.” WRONG. A high percentage of people in divorce courts never thought they’d be getting divorced. Believing that it can’t happen to you can lead to your becoming apathetic, complacent, and lazy. You begin to take your partner for granted. Instead, knowing that time is finite (either because divorce or death might be looming), you begin to treat the relationship with TLC. George and Melissa already knew that their relationship was subject to separation.

However, once they realized that their assumptions had led to unhealthy and hurtful habits in their relationship, they began to turn things around. George, upon hearing that Melissa wasn’t feeling loved, became open to new ways of communicating to her. Melissa responded to his attention so positively that it was easy for them to embrace each other’s differences and develop new habits that eventually evolved into a whole new way of being with each other.

© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Ashley Davis Bush, LCSW, therapist in Epping, New Hampshire

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Morgan

    Morgan

    August 5th, 2013 at 5:17 PM

    So glad to hear this happy ending! There just aren’t enough of them!

  • Elvin

    Elvin

    August 5th, 2013 at 5:18 PM

    I know I sure was at fault for taking my wife for granted. She reminds me. Every day. I always thought she’d be there all the time. She reminds me every morning. When the sun comes out. She’s been dead for three years now. Every day she reminds me how much I took her for granted. By making the sun come up.

  • GALLAGHER

    GALLAGHER

    August 5th, 2013 at 5:21 PM

    I HAD TO WATCH MY MOM AND DAD’S MARRIAGE BREAK UP BECAUSE THEY NEVER TOLD EACH OTHER THEY LOVED EACH OTHER.

    I REMEMBER ASKING MY MOM WHEN I WAS A LITTLE BOY WHY SHE NEVER TOLD DADDY SHE LOVED HIM.

    SHE SAID ALL THAT STUFF WAS FOR SISSIES AND THAT HE ALREADY KNEW ANYWAY.

    I GUESS HE FOUND SOMEONE WHO WOULD TELL HIM AS MUCH AS HE WANTED HER TO BECAUSE HE LEFT MY FAMILY AND STARTED A NEW ONE WHEN I WAS EIGHT.

    I NEVER GOT OVER IT AND I STILL FEEL LIKE THAT LITTLE KID WHO GOT LEFT ALL THOSE YEARS AGO BECAUSE MY MOM WOULDN’T TELL MY DAD SHE LOVED HIM.

    NOW I TELL MY WIFE ALL THE TIME. WE’VE BEEN MARRIED 42 YEARS. IT STILL DOESN’T FEEL NATURAL BUT I FIGURE IT’S BETTER TO UNCOMFORTABLE FOR EXACTLY FIVE SECONDS OUT OF THE DAY THAN MISERABLE FOR ALL 24 HOURS OF IT.

  • paul

    paul

    August 5th, 2013 at 5:23 PM

    omg-everyone always makes this stuff out like it’s such a big deal. I’m only 20 and I know it’s not that hard. What is the big deal?

  • Melinda

    Melinda

    August 6th, 2013 at 3:24 PM

    Paul, what part if the article did you think was not a big deal, that the writer is allegedly making into a big deal?

    You are so funny, admitting your age while belittling these marital issues. I am inclined to think everything you just wrote is a sham. The problems mentioned in the article settle into marriage after a number of years, possibly from 5 to 10 and beyond. How many years have you been married?

  • Ashley Bush

    Ashley Bush

    August 5th, 2013 at 6:13 PM

    @Morgan — yes, here’s to more happy endings! Peace, Ashley
    @Elvin — I am so sorry to hear of your loss. I have worked with grievers for 25 years and I know that you would give anything for one more day with her. I also know that her love is always with you. Wishing you peace on the journey, Ashley
    @Gallagher — Thanks for sharing. You are a great example of ‘do it anyway’. Love is a verb and it requires action, even when you don’t ‘feel’ like it. I hope that your dear relationship with your wife can help heal some of the childhood hurt. If nothing else, your childhood wound has helped you become a better husband. Wishing you peace, Ashley
    @Paul — Relationships don’t have to be work — but they do require intention and attention. Wishing you peace on your path, Ashley

  • Tracy

    Tracy

    August 6th, 2013 at 2:55 PM

    Paul- you are young and have a lot to learn. I know that at 20 it must feel like you have the whole idea of what marriage should be like and will be like for you, and believe me, when I was your age man, I felt the same way.\
    And then you get married. And you have kids. And you get a morgtage. And the bills pile up. And you have to work all the time to make ends meet. And you kind of forget who you are along the way and when you have forgotten who you are then you sure as heck can’t remember anything about the things that your wife need at home either.

    I’m not saying that marriage can’t be wonderful because with the right person and the right frame of mind it is. But what I think that this article is trying to renind all of us is that it is someothing that takes a little more work than what most of us want to have to put into it. And to make it work, well, it takes work.

  • Ashley Bush

    Ashley Bush

    August 7th, 2013 at 8:29 AM

    I wanted to add that time changes perspectives, without a doubt. A person at 40 cannot see life the same way he or she did at 20. Nor will life from 60 look like it did from 40. I suggest cultivating an attitude of curiosity. Life is always bringing us new experiences, challenged, and opportunities for growth. Change is eventually in the air. Peace, Ashley

  • sully

    sully

    August 7th, 2013 at 11:18 AM

    Please don’t be me. I just assumed that my wife knew I loved her. She didn’t know it because i stopped telling her a long time ago. Whereas I thought a paycheck and a roof showed her that, those were fairly inconsequential things to her in the end. Our marriage ended as a result of assumptions I made.

  • Khad

    Khad

    August 7th, 2013 at 2:49 PM

    If you don’t tell your man how much you respect him, don’t expect him to tell you how much he loves you and vice versa. We are men. We don’t want your love. We want your respect. Respect us and we’ll love you to death. I’m tired of these one-sided articles that only take into account female feelings and needs. Yes we need love to just like women want respect. But we want love through respect and women want respect through love. The day my wife says ‘I respect you’ on her own without me questioning her respect, well that’ll be the day hell freezes over. Try it women. How do you feel about saying those three words? If you feel reluctant then that’s why your man won’t tell you he loves you more. And in fact it’s why he really doesn’t.

  • Ashley Bush

    Ashley Bush

    August 7th, 2013 at 6:13 PM

    Khad, You are so right. Both men and women have needs in the relationship. A good practice for all couples is to find out what your partner’s ‘magic words’ are. These are the words that most fill your heart. Are the words, “I love you”, “I respect you”, “I admire you”, “I appreciate you” or “You are my priority”? Each of us needs to discover our partner’s magic words and say them often! Thanks for sharing, Ashley

  • sal

    sal

    February 14th, 2016 at 10:30 PM

    I dont want to hear the words now. I can’t hear them any more. All I can hear and feel are the patronizing comments and all I can feel is the little push away when I gave a hello hug. And then you expected me to want sex? you were a stranger. I think too much of me died. Hollow words do nothing.

  • Rita

    Rita

    May 2nd, 2016 at 12:20 PM

    I am going through such a challenging time in my marriage. My husband of over 20 years has always had issues with becoming verbally abusive. Recently he was so hurtful and he abandoned me on vacation. Then for months he mistreated me as I struggled to come up for air. It was so painful that I thought I was going to die. Now he is sorry and trying to make it up to me. I can’t trust anything that he says anymore. I don’t know how to get over it even though I think he is trying but I feel like he killed my love for him.

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

    May 2nd, 2016 at 2:56 PM

    Dear Rita,

    Thank you for your comment. We are sorry to hear of the challenges you are experiencing. The GoodTherapy.org Team is not qualified to offer professional advice, but we urge you to reach out. If you feel you are in danger, please contact law enforcement or go to your nearest emergency room immediately. If you are not in immediate danger but are experiencing abuse of any kind, whether or not you would call it domestic violence, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (TTY: 1-800-787-3224) for free and confidential support, 24 hours a day. Private chat is available at http://www.thehotline.org.

    If you would like more information on intimate partner abuse, you can visit this page:
    https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/issues/domestic-violence

    If you would like to search for a therapist or counselor in your area, you can do so at our website. To see a list of providers in your area, simply enter your ZIP code here:
    https://www.goodtherapy.org/find-therapist.html

    Please know you are not alone. Help is available.

    Kind regards,
    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • maryam

    maryam

    March 30th, 2017 at 12:58 PM

    hello good day, please I really need your. advise. I have been married for 7 years without any issue of being a mother,I and my husband loved each other deeply before we got married he was a very good man even after our marriage but the thing is I doesn’t respect him and I always regret doing everything he was very forgiving he forgives so easily. but now his heart is Harding he doest even wanna see me and I swear I want to change but he doesn’t trust me anymore he told me he will never believe I could change,now it has come to the estent that he want me out of his life and I know I can’t live without him and he told me he can’t live with me. please help me on what to do.

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