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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Sometimes the message we receive is not at all the message our spouse sent.

It takes a long time to overcome our default reactions. I have one I'm still trying to get right more than I get wrong.

On a recent Saturday morning I woke up in a bit of a funk. I had a lot on my mind and was feeling stressed about all that needed to happen that day. Jenni picked up on my mood and asked me if something was wrong. I said, half truthfully, that I was okay and just had a lot on my mind. As the morning progressed she asked several more times what was wrong.

Assurance or Accusation

It seems silly now, but at the time, rather than hearing her genuine concern for my wellbeing, I heard, "You are not being how I want you to be." I got mad at her for what I perceived as accusation and disapproval. Understandably, she reacted to my anger with hurt feelings. I did what I often do when I feel criticized, and withdrew.

It took me several hours to realize what was happening. I had slipped back into an old pattern. For years, I have often received Jenni's need for reassurance as accusation against me. When she would say "Are you sure...?" I would hear, "I don't think you know what you are doing." When she would say, "Why are we....?" I would hear, "I dont' trust you."

Jenni also had some false filtering of her own going on that Saturday morning. She saw my withdrawal and quietness and became concerned that things were bad between us or that she had done something wrong. That's part of what drove her to keep asking if everything was okay.

Hearing a Message Not Sent

It took us years to figure out this pattern of me receiving a totally different message than the one Jenni intended to send. Whereas she would simply be seeking reassurance about a matter, I would take her questioning as her doubting my judgement. I often felt disrespected or not trusted.

We tend to develop false filters in the areas where we have strong needs or a significant amount of insecurity.

Respect and trust rank pretty high on my needs list in my marriage. And I've come to realize that these needs can cause me to be overly sensitive and see a lack of respect and mistrust when they aren't there. It's a false filter.

Finding Your False Filters

Think through your own areas of sensitivity. What are your most important needs? What are the areas where you feel some level of insecurity? Do you sometimes hear messages from your spouse in these areas that they aren't sending?
  • A wife who has a a poor self image about her appearance might assume her husband's compliments are insincere.
  • A husband who fears he isn't providing sufficiently for the family might hear his wife's concern about the tightness of the budget as an accusation that he is not a good provider.
  • A wife who has a high need to feel cared for might hear unloving words from her husband that aren't intended that way at all.
  • A husband who is the higher-drive spouse might hear sexual refusal when his wife makes an offhand comment that she is feeling tired.
If you are like me, just being aware of our false filters won't necessarily always prevent you from receiving a message your spouse didn't send, but it can help you be aware when it starts to happen, and rethink what you are hearing.

Keep in mind, too, where your spouse's false filter habits are. Knowing this can prompt you to double-check when you sense that something you said might have been received incorrectly. For example, when Jenni senses an undue reaction in me, she will sometimes stop and ask, "Did that make you feel disrespected, because I didn't mean it that way at all." This simple step has saved us from a lot of misunderstandings.

Do you experience false filters in some areas? How do you combat your tendency to hear wrongly? Leave a comment.

Image credit: A quote by Inigo Montoya (Mandy Potamkin) from the movie The Princess Bride


David Carr said...

Thanks Scott. This was helpful to me.

Andrew said...

Certainly, I used to have false filters; but a drastic change in life's paradigms - terminal illness - has made them somewhat irrelevant.

I'm much more apt to take comments at face value, without reading anything into them now. It does make for a more harmonious life, but the cost of the lesson was been rather heavier that I would have liked to have paid.

Scott said...

Thanks David and Andrew for your comments.

Andrew, I'm sorry to hear of your very difficult circumstances. Terminal illness does change everything.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this Scott. This is one we can all relate too.

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