I was innocently watching Mitch practice basketball when the curious misunderstanding occurred.
Cameron, my youngest son (by one minute) does not know a stranger. It’s a good thing because his knack for making friends comes in handy while he’s being dragged around to his brother’s various sporting activities. As usual Cameron made fast friends with a buddy he affectionately referred to as “Dude.” He was likely a year younger than him, which makes his new friend, Dude, roughly seven.
Dude and Cameron were playing hide-n-seek in the gym. It took them a minute or two to realize that a gymnasium has little to nothing to offer by way of hiding places. However, they made creative use of both the boy’s restroom as well as beneath the bleachers. (This is why we do not leave home without our antibacterial wipes).
While taking a quick trip to the restroom, I overheard Dude and Cameron talking just outside the door. Dude, who noticed me enter there restroom, said to Cameron who hadn’t seen me, “Hey, I just saw your mom go into the bathroom.” Cameron, who has two moms, had a natural inclination to inquire about the mom who entered the bathroom, so he asked Dude, “Which one?” To which Dude simply replied, “The Women’s.”
Because that’s what we do. We attempt to solve problems with whatever we have at our disposal. We use what we know to make sense of what we don’t know. And if what we know is not enough to make sense of what we don’t know, we fill in the blanks – whether it’s accurate or not. In fact, usually we don’t even know what we don’t know. Like Dude. Dude has probably never knowingly met a lesbian in his life. It probably never occurred to him that Cameron has two moms. So when he was faced with a question about “which one?” the only slot in Dude’s brain for comprehending the question was “which bathroom,” not “which mom.”
Inaccurate assumptions and incorrectly filling-in-the-blanks, account for most day-to-day conflicts between partners. This is an important lesson to keep in mind as we enter the holiday season.
Take Kendra and Jenna, for example. Last year Kendra brought Jenna home to spend Thanksgiving with her parents for the first time. On the three hour drive to her parents, Kendra says, “let’s get up early tomorrow and surprise my family by having breakfast ready when they wake up.” Without clarifying, Jenna assumed that “early” would be around 8:00am, which she thought was too early to awake on a holiday, but wanted to make a good impression, so agreed.
You can imagine Jenna’s shock when the alarm went off at 6:00am the next morning. With Kendra nudging her awake, she realized it was not a mistake – she was actually expected to GET UP! A simple misunderstanding like this is sometimes enough to sour a whole day for some couples. Jenna felt “misled,” pointing out to Kendra that she had told Kendra how little sleep she had gotten the days leading up to their trip, because of the extra work she had to complete in order to get time off to travel to Kendra’s parents.
Now Jenna is angry that Kendra was so “inconsiderate,” and “putting her family’s needs above hers.” Kendra feels “frustrated,” deciding that Jenna is just “lazy,” and “unreliable” and “making things up to get out of helping with breakfast.”
All because they didn’t know. All because they filled in the blanks with inaccurate information. What was once a sweet idea to team up together and make a nice breakfast surprise became a name-slinging conflict with Jenna ending up feeling unimportant and Kendra feeling disappointed.
This year, Kendra and Jenna are prepared. They made a decision that they would approach this holiday intentionally. Wish them luck! (And plenty of sleep and happy breakfasts).
As you prepare for the holidays, consider these steps (and check out the tool I created for you):
- Communicate clearly what it is you hope to experience, make no assumptions that he or she knows what you want
- Share your plans, in detail, for how you envision things unfolding
- Describe for your partner how you see him or her participating in the creation of your dream holiday
- Request that your partner share #1-3 (above) with you, and negotiate – in advance – a holiday that will work for both of you!