Transform Your Relationship by Assuming the Best Intentions

Couple in love

“Happiness is a conscious choice, not an automatic response.” ~Mildred Barthel

I used to think he was out to get me. The man of my dreams was continually plotting to undermine my happiness in countless ways, all for some mysterious reason I couldn’t comprehend.

Can you give me a ride to work today?” He missed his shuttle on the morning I had my first speech, a forty-five-minute drive in the opposite direction. He obviously didn’t want me to succeed in my career.

Are you wearing that tonight?” Oh great, just before we go out to meet friends for dinner he wanted to throw off my confidence in how I looked. Did he think I was getting fat?

Can you come help me with this?” Couldn’t he see that I was in the middle of a relaxing Saturday morning, my first bit of sanity after a very stressful week? He must not care if I got any down time, though you could bet he’d be sitting on the couch watching golf all afternoon.

A lot of my time was spent stewing, working over these scenarios and replaying them in my mind. Overthinking was my specialty, my calling card in life. I prided myself on seeing things other people missed, reading between the lines to get to the “real” meaning.

These little bits of drama took a lot of mental effort for me to concoct, but after a while I became really good at them. I could summon up a motive from his every glance or change of tone, sometimes simply from thin air.

Nevermind that I still considered him my dream man, just one with the not-so-adorable quirk of trying to undermine happiness.

What did that say about me?

Like most of my uncomfortable feelings, I pushed these thoughts down, working to keep things cool on the surface while I boiled underneath.

Life kept moving forward, and then one day my brother had a heart attack. A year later, a friend had a brain aneurysm. Both survived, but it changed our mindset about time and dreams.

We decided to sell everything we owned and travel the world, taking our retirement dreams and living them at midlife instead, when we had the health and energy to enjoy them. It was a beautiful time, planning our grand adventure and then stepping into it together.

But still, I had these nagging thoughts about him and his continued efforts to rob me of my happiness, even as we were living out our biggest dream. Looking back, it was pure insanity.

I read about this site in Northern Peru that’s supposed to be really cool. Want to go there next instead of Machu Picchu?” He knew I was dying to go to Machu Picchu. Why would he try to take that away from me? He didn’t want me to be happy.

Why don’t you write in the early mornings so we still have the days to explore Edinburgh together?” He knew I wasn’t a morning person, so why would he ask such a thing? Because he was a morning person, that’s why. He thought I was lazy.

I’ve been editing the podcasts and you say “this and that” a lot. It detracts from the message. Can you tamp it down?” Hey, I just got a compliment from a guest on my radio voice. Why was he nitpicking like that? He couldn’t stand it that someone said something nice to me.

None of my thoughts were said out loud, but they did needle at my happiness in small bursts multiple times a day. We were rarely apart in this traveling lifestyle, especially when we started publishing books and podcasts together, and I found an ulterior motive in almost everything he said. Over time, my brain almost melted at the continuous effort required to read into his every word. It was a full-time job.

Then a very big fight happened, one of those life-changing arguments, and I let the cat out of the bag. He was stunned.

“Of course I’m not out to get you. I love you.”

At the end of all the harsh words and tears this was a revelation, an insight into this years-long issue in our relationship.

It wasn’t him; it was me.

All those years of reading between the lines, a skill I’d honed since childhood, kept me from seeing reality. I was ignoring the black and white meaning of what he said in favor of some imagined murky gray story with no basis in fact.

My writer’s mind was altering my own life story, as it happened, without the consent or knowledge of the other main character. I was changing a light-hearted romance into a mystery and painting my husband as the bad guy.

In the aftermath of the very big fight, we agreed to always assume the best intentions of the other person, no matter what words were chosen in the delivery. Instead of picking apart how it was said, we would focus on where it came from, which was always from the heart.

Questions were encouraged. Clarification was required. No guessing games allowed.

It was surprising how fast this one change impacted my outlook. I stopped spinning crazy stories in my head and focused on the moment, what this man who loved me was trying to convey. When I didn’t understand, or the understanding I had was negative, I asked for clarification.

He always freely gave it.

He wanted to see everything in the world with me. He wanted me to have time to write, but also to play together. He wanted the work we produced to be as professional as possible, and he knew we both had quirks to overcome.

The meaning was there in plain sight, in the honesty of his words. He wanted the best for us in everything, as anyone in love would.

He wasn’t out to get me. He was out to love me, to share a life with me, and all I had to do was take him at his word.

The day we vowed to always assume the best intentions in each other was as powerful as the day we vowed to be together forever. And it makes honoring that marriage vow a lot more enjoyable.

How to Train Yourself to Assume the Best Intentions

1. Every single day, compliment or thank your partner for something they’ve done.

Make gratitude for what they do right an everyday thing and the occasional slipups will not seem as big. It also reinforces positive behaviors, making them more likely to continue.

2. When your partner says or does something that rankles you, first stop and ask yourself if a stranger in the room with you right at that moment would have the same reaction.

If you’re overthinking, you will have added layers of meaning that aren’t there. But if you look at it from the outside, it’s a more realistic version of events. It will help center you.

3. If all else fails, ask for clarification.

“I may have taken this the wrong way. Did you mean X?” This gives your partner the chance to clear it up right away, before you’ve had a chance to concoct a story in your head.

It will take some time to train yourself from overthinking and reading between the lines, but it can be done. And you (and your partner) will be happier because of it.

Editor’s Note: Betsy has generously offered to give away two copies of her new book Married with Luggage: What We Learned about Love by Traveling the World. To enter to win a copy, leave a comment below. You can enter until midnight PST on Monday, Monday, April 28th.

Update: The winners have been chosen: ccrgirl and Joy Olson.

Photo by Peti Morgan

About Betsy Talbot

Betsy Talbot and her husband Warren are the authors of Married with Luggage: What We Learned about Love by Traveling the World. To celebrate this new book, they’ve partnered with Eurail to give one lucky couple two first-class train passes to experience the romance of Europe. Could it be you?

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  • Jessica

    Wow this is me! Thanks for writing this. I used to think it was always the other person, maybe it’s time for me to work on me!

  • I am so guilty of doing this too! I can be quite sensitive to criticisms or even suggestions partly because I’m hard on myself already. I will try to use your strategy over the weekend and see how it goes. Thanks for the idea!

  • Michele

    Thank you for your insight. I often find myself doing the same exact thing. I’ll be discussing this with my soon-to-be hubs tonight!

  • Michelle

    I have done this more times than I’d like to admit. Honestly, reading this felt like I was reading a letter from a wiser, future version of myself! Thank you so very much for your insight and candor.

  • Hi, Michelle. I hated admitting this to myself! But ever since I did my life and relationships (not just my marriage) have drastically improved. And I’m a little less preoccupied with what’s wrong and able to focus on what’s right. Good luck to you!

  • Michele, if you can get this sorted before you get married, you’ll be 10 steps ahead of the rest of us! 🙂 Smart woman.

  • Hi, Janelle. I’ve been training myself to step to the side of a criticism, almost as if it is a real thing and I’m observing it. It helps me to not take it as an ego hit and more of just a comment I can either use or discard. Good luck trying this out this weekend!

  • Hi, Jessica. I used to ask myself why everyone was like that, and then I realized the common denominator in all those situations was…me. It was a painful realization, but it has opened me up to a greater happiness as a result. I wish the same for you. (Though sometimes, let’s face it it is the other person! But even then, I’m much less stressed by giving them the benefit of the doubt, so this strategy works both ways.) 🙂

  • This was me. I had experienced a relationship where there really were double meanings in much of what was said, and I trained myself to be hyper-vigilant as a form of self protection. Blessedly, I’m now in a relationship where there are no hidden agendas. We both say what we mean, freeing both of us up to take each other at face value, and it’s such a beautiful thing.

  • Carlamelo

    Great ideas! I plan to share this article with my clients who are struggling with relationship issues. Thanks!

  • polly

    so true, I do this all the time.

  • Dusty

    Interesting look at the things we do to sabotage our relationships and how simple the solutions and happiness usually are.

  • Erika

    Wow, I’m speechless and SO thankful for how you spelled this out. I have been doing this for years, even though my husband has asked me to assume the best in him. Thank you for sharing your struggle, to help me, to help others. xo

  • Melody

    Beautiful insight! Thank you for sharing!

  • ccrgirl

    Just the article I needed to read today! Every single day, I assume my partner has some secret agenda or that he doesn’t respect me when he forgets about the deal or just postpones it. I fuss over small stuff and this morning I’ve decided to give him a benefit of the doubt and try to take it easy. I appreciate your advice 🙂

  • Jeff

    It’s funny hpow it always comes back to a few things when we boil everything down. Trying not to make assumptions is one of my major battles. You hear something and immediately take it as a slap at you instead of truly listening, asking, and understanding.

  • Sarah

    This is an absolutely fantastic article on a topic very dear to my heart… or perhaps ‘dear’ is the wrong word! Thank you for this wonderful reminder.
    It’s also encouraging to know that other people struggle with this, too.

  • This is a great point, Mani. If you’re with someone where you can’t assume the best intentions – you know for a fact it isn’t true – then that’s a pretty good reason to leave. Why be with someone who doesn’t always want the best for you? Good for you for finding a more mature relationship!

  • P8n8lop8

    Thank you so much for this post and telling us about your journey of learning to assume the best intentions. I have always been like you – skeptical of others who love me and I admit that I do this to my husband as well. Your posting has made me realise that I do need to work on asking more clarification and not jumping to the assumption that people are out to stomp on my happiness. I would love to win a copy of the book! Again,thank you for the enlightenment.

  • Hi, Erika. It’s such a small adjustment in thinking, but to be able to see it in yourself is huge. I hope this helps you as much as it has helped me!

  • Hi, ccrgirl. Isn’t it strange how we think our partners are out to get us? When I look back, I realize how ridiculous it was, but in the moment it felt so right. I hope this gives you greater happiness. 🙂

  • krutika

    nicely written loved your Article Betsy

  • Hi, Jeff. It’s a defensive posture, for sure, and I still struggle with various aspects of this. It’s even harder when you’re in love with a blunt communicator. 🙂 But just having the realization that I *could* be overthinking has helped me…awareness is the first step! And followup questions are the BEST for your and my kind of defensive responses. Better to nip those false assumptions in the bud than to let them spin out of control. Good luck!

  • Sarah, this is my favorite thing about the internet – finding other “freaks” like me. It’s always easier to deal with issues like this when you can find someone else working through the same thing. 🙂

  • Hi, P8n8lop8, followup questions have been the key for me. “What kind of reaction were you looking for when you said/did that?” This usually tells me that he had a far different intention that I took, or it opens the door to talking about why those words/actions are inappropriate going forward. Either way, it’s a win for the relationship.

  • Kirsten

    Your article really resonates with me, Betsy, thank you so much for sharing your story so fearlessly and lovingly. In recent months, I have become much more observant of the unconscious programs that have been running my mind, most of which jump to negative conclusions about what was meant, said or done by my other half. I have recently met someone new, who has been a huge catalyst for me in so many ways – and of course I’ve just been waiting for everything to go wrong, and for my prediction that it’s too good to be true to become true. Your story is yet another confirmation that I am on the right path to doing things in a different way. I still have those niggling doubts and negative thoughts, but now I see them for what they are, as though I am one step removed from them and I am not as identified with them as I was. As you say, it’s a work in progress, and takes a huge leap of faith and trust (primarily in ourselves that we are worthy of love), but this is exactly what I needed to hear today. Thank you 🙂

  • Hannah B

    This was a wonderful article! I try and share my appreciation for my partner everyday, but we are long-distance and sometime the intentions can be hard to interpret over the phone. The one thing that has helped out relationship grow is #3 on this list – ask for clarification. If you don’t know, just ask. I try to never assume that my partner knows what i’m thinking or how I interpreted something (no one is a mind reader after all). Such a wonderful read. Thanks again for reinforcing such great guidelines in relationships!

  • Stace

    I loved this article… this sounds exactly like me… I really need to learn what you have learned because I think this could help me to be happy with life instead of resentful. Thank you!

  • Beth

    This is fascinating. I find that I do this with my mother-in-law, and I suspect I am over-thinking much of what she says. I will be more attentive now, and will ask for clarification if I think I am on that slippery slope.

  • Deanna Lang

    This is amazing and wonderful and just….WOW. I have learned so much just from this little heartfelt story. Thank you.

  • Marie

    I really needed to read this. Thank you!

  • Tracey

    Thanks, Betsy – a wonderfully engaging read, and thoroughly loved it. Am also very interested in the fact that facing mortality and travel were such significant parts of your story – the impetus you felt to live well whilst you can, and that something which is often a vehicle for one’s own personal growth proved to be one for your relationship too. These “hidden meanings” and over thinking are something I can really relate to… and I know it’s ultimately all coming from me and my own fears of being good enough. Tough habit to break though! Trying to just get up and “be love” over and over, each and every day.

  • Aileen

    Hi everyone and Betsy,

    I really want to thank you all deeply for sharing your experience on this topic. I thought it was just me :’) and What Betsy wrote is exactly the same precise things happened to me.

    I had my first relationship ever and i really want to keep our relationship. But this over-sensitivity has been stealing my joy over the months, makes me keep thinking that he might not be the one, based on all those things he said or do. And it really drives me crazy, because it has given me too much things (worried) to think about.

    Again, i feel thankful to stumble across this article. I really do want to fight into a better person. Hopefully I can progress quickly and well.

    To all of you out there who is at the same condition, let’s learn together 🙂

    Cheers from Singapore!

  • Lisa Gardner

    THANK YOU for this. My writer’s brain gets me in trouble the same way. I know I’m overthinking, but didnt have an action plan until reading this article!! This is exactly what I needed today. 🙂

  • Aileen

    Gee…. I’ve never thought of that kind of question! That is the best solution for my current situation!!! Aaa thank you! Thank you!

  • Lauren

    Thank you for this article, Betsy. It was great! I overthink just about anything and everything and this past year have been working hard to reduce the occurrence of that tendency.
    Growing up I was given many double messages. A family argument that would leave me incredibly concerned would result in me expressing this concern only to get a “its fine” even though hings weren’t. There was a double message for everything! I have been following some of the recommendations you had mentioned for the past year now and its amazing how much more enjoyable things can be when you take them for the surface value they were intended.

  • Mel

    I am guilty of overthinking or analysing people’s motives, especially in romantic relationships. I am adept at weaving stories to suit my suspicions whilst conveniently ignoring the parts that don’t fit. Thanks for the tips. I will try to remember to implement them in future :)x

  • jumpinjavelina

    You wrote about me, I am the ultimate overthinker. Especially being in a relationship with a flat communicator, I always look for the extras and at least 50% of the time I’m wrong. You’ve provided some very good lessons in stepping back and letting things just be. Thank you.

  • Aileen

    Agree that it’s really a tough habit to break! But we can do this 🙂 to give love more and more. Let’s fight for it! 🙂 good to know there’re others who are having the exact thoughts and condition hehehe….

    Thanks for sharing too!

  • Carolynne Melnyk

    This is a great reminder, whether you are in a relationship or not. It carries the assumptions or stories we create about most people in our lives. When in relationship with another it is good to remember there are 4 people involved not just two: the person you facing with their idea of who they are and the person you have created in your mind. This is the same for the other person, they are are also dealing with two people. This makes your advice to assume the best intention very valuable.

  • youaregoodandfine

    What a fantastic article. As many other commenters have said, I struggle with this as well. I have had a number of dysfunctional, unhealthy, and even downright emotionally abusive relationships. I feel like I am still “deprogramming”, if you will, from those experiences. I met the man I consider my soulmate last year and I’ve found that some of this thinking still leaks in here and there, but luckily my partner is incredibly loving and patient with me, so we’re working through it together. Thank you for sharing your story, Betsy, and your insight with similar experiences.

  • stacy grogan

    I loved this article, definitely what I needed to read this week. Thank you for sharing, would love a copy of her book. Thank you, Stacy

  • Whitney

    This is such an inspirational article. Thank you so much! I love knowing my brain isn’t the only one that will wander off down the crazy trail if left unattended. Can’t wait to read your book – Sounds like something my partner and I have talked and fantasized about forever!

  • Tina Kriebel

    Such a great reminder to have the best intentions in mind when listening to those around us. Thanks!

  • Tracey

    Wonderfully insightful, Lauren, and interestingly enough, I too experienced this “mixed message” phenomena growing up. I think when one’s instinct tells us all isn’t okay but parents (with all best intentions, and no doubtedly to protect) say, “it’s fine”, it creates an environment in which intellect and analysis run into overdrive, and to desperately try and reconcile the conflicting truths. If makes me wonder how different things could be if we say to our children, “no darling, it’s not right or okay, but we’ll do our best anyway”. I certainly think that would be a great foundation foundation for empowerment, and trusting one’s ability to withstand discomfort and respond to what life brings. Pretty potent life skill, don’t you think?

  • Elizabeth

    This was great. I related SO much to everything you said about how you used to react to your husband’s comments. I too am an over-thinker and it definitely makes my relationship suffer. Moving forward, I’m going to try to always remember to ask for clarification. Thanks for this!

  • I have been an overthinker for decades — most of my life! In the past 10 years, I too began to understand it was all about me and my reactions, not about the other person at all. As I softened in my responses to my partner, as I began to trust his intentions and ask for clarification on the chosen words, our relationship began to bloom in whole new ways. Who would have thought that after 44 years of marriage, we are closer, more comfortable and more excited about being together than ever! Now, when I hear what he says and feel “prickly”, I am quick to something like, “wow, that is making me feel uncomfortable. Can you tell me what you mean so I can better understand?” He doesn’t get defensive, and when he has mis-spoken in a hurtful way unintentionally, he is quick to fix it. We don’t fight anymore about anything — what a beautiful way to live!

  • kate

    Great article! I have definitely been guilty of this. I would love to win the book; my boyfriend and I just made the decision to get serious about our two year plan of sellings the house, saving, and then traveling and are now taking our first steps towards all of that! The book, and any suggestions, would be much appreciated 🙂

  • Lauren

    Definitely!! I can say with some certainty that it would probably lead to increased trust in internal and external relationships; In knowing that “things aren’t necessarily fine but we’ll get through them” you learn to trust your instincts through affirmation rather than question them….which is one huge thing that will suit you internally and in your relationships with others. I think because of my parents message, however unintentional, I learned to question my thoughts because in those instances they were “wrong”. Twenty five years later and I’m just now beginning to tie all of this together….at least things make sense now. Oh what a tangled web we weave.

  • Ronalda Blackwood

    I’m going to share this story with my boyfriend and have us take the vow as well. This has been a very eye opening article for me. It’s like you were inside my head. We’re in a long distance relationship and it’s been very hard as he has such a crazy schedule and we don’t talk often as I’d like but I do know we love each other. We’ve loved each other for 10 years and haven’t been together for most of it. We broke up 8 years and got back together recently. Thank you for your article.
    I’d love to win this book.

  • Jenny

    This is exactly what I needed to read today… did you somehow read my mind? Or write this for me? 😉 I have struggled with this same problem, not just with my husband but with all relationships, for years. It is something I am just now learning to manage and overcome. Thank you!

  • Heather

    This article is a perfect reminder. Many times post-argument, my husband asks, “Why didn’t you just ask me to clarify what I meant?” I often ask myself the same question.

  • Sarah

    I cant belive how much you hit the nail on the head, it brought tears to my eyes to hear someone else do the same exact thing that I do. It seems I always assume the worst and then there I am re-running the same script all day pulling different meanings out of it. I’m working to try to get out of my own head so much. This article definitely rings true to home. I plan to try to ask for clarification instead of letting my thoughts run wild and go to the negative place they always do. I anticpate a lot less misunderstandings and negativity in my relationship!
    Thank you!

  • Al

    Thank you for sharing your experience and voice. Awareness is the first step, and you helped focus me. Now, to help others understand my true intentions in communicating…

  • This was ME to a T!! I appreciate how succinctly you’ve been able to boil down the behavior and suggest tangible ways to make a change. I will definitely be sharing your wisdom with others! Thank you for sharing with us!!

  • Brodi

    This is seriously one of the best posts I’ve read in a long time. I feel like you’re inside my head and writing about me. I also love following your progress and living vicariously through your travels. 🙂

  • Jane

    am a serial over thinker but have been working to get things clarified before I
    sneak off and stew about an imaginary slight that never really happened. It
    feels better to ask and have the other’s point of view brought to life instead
    of just assuming. So I really enjoyed your article, thanks for writing it!

    Where I do still struggle is with #2. What if your partner says something to
    you in a sweet voice that sounds lovely to anyone else in the room. But the
    words they have purposely used are well known triggers used to discreetly hurt.
    You can ask for clarification (which sounds crazy to the rest of the room as
    what was said seemed to be so sweet) and your partner can smile and say it
    meant nothing and get away with it. What if the layers of meaning ARE there?

  • Mary Lynn

    22 years ago my first college boyfriend told me to always assume the best and I’ve been grateful to him ever since. Thank you for the reminder.

  • poulviking

    Well I’m on the other side. My partner will say “but you wanted to go to these markets” No, I said ” I don’t mind if we don’t go to to the markets” ” she says “yes I know, but you didn’t look happy when you said it”. So we both end up some where we didn’t really want to be. Just because we think we can read the other persons mind. Spot on, we could be so much happier. Thanks for that story, great insight even if it caused you a lot of pain to find it.( A book would be great) otherwise I will buy it.

  • jamiejoy

    This is such a clear expression of the sneaky projections we are so often enacting! I’m grateful you have been able to tease apart this subtle process and write about it so well.

  • sheree

    It’s funny that I happened to read this today. This article couldn’t have come at a better time for me (and my husband and kids). It’s given me such a light bulb moment!
    I actually do this too and have done for years, but didn’t realize until now!! After sitting here and thinking about it for a few minutes, a lot of our problems are created in my own head. My husband is wonderful and I know deep down he hss the best of intentions. Thank you for bringing my awareness to this, at what happens to be the perfect timing for us 🙂

  • jamiejoy

    And then if someone IS trying to undermine us, we will have a much better chance of figuring that out!

  • Caterina

    Wonderful article Betsy!! Ensuring that you always think that the words came from the heart & were of good intention is such a small thing but I believe that thinking this way will make more people a lot happier & confident to know that their loved ones are just that, people that want the best for them & love them. Thank you again Betsy.

  • Dani

    I love everything about this article. I suffer from the same way of thinking and it is literally destroying my life. This was such great insight. Sometimes what you tell yourself isn’t enough to believe it. It’s nice to hear it from an outsider. Thank you! this was life changing.

  • Janie

    Beautiful article. Love the part about clarification, especially. My husband and I are currently separated and lack of clarification was on the of the biggest factors in the mistakes we made. Live and learn. I will have this article bookmarked.

  • Crystle

    I needed to read this! I’ve recently realized it’s ME who’s sabotaging my relationship. What a shock! Thanks for sharing.

  • Clare

    Thank you so much for such a powerful article. Even though I began to realize that I too, am an overthinker a few years ago, it was after much pain and frustration in my own relationship with the “man of my dreams.” I truly wish someone had been able to explain these feelings as simply and eloquently as you have. After one particularly nasty argument with my husband where I was raging and I now realize he was genuinely confused by my intense anger, I had a moment where I felt that I carried an anger in me that was not my own. As I pondered this very strange concept, I realized that I was making assumptions about my husband that were based upon much of what I heard from my own mother about my father as I grew up. For me, it was “learned” anger that was unfair and unfounded and the simple concept of “assuming the best” felt alien. I still struggle with this at times but I’ve also discovered that assuming the best has become easier for me over time. Thank you again for a wonderful article.

  • April

    Inspiring read! A bucket list journey I want to check off for myself

  • Monika

    There are other women out there who do this? I thought its just me and that I am not normal…. So very grateful for the article and comments, its like a mirror, a revelation and a relief! Thanks Betsy!

  • Brenna Croker Larson

    Thank you darling!! Aye caramba…I struggle with this too. I am a therapust and don’t do couples counseling…maybe after I keep chipping away at my stuff I will! I also have plans to travel the world with the man I love!!

  • Bernice

    The timing couldn’t have been more perfect for me to read this! Just last night, I managed to (once again) nitpick at my boyfriend’s attempt to provide words of help and comfort over the phone. Unfortunately, I have a bad habit of trying to “correct” him on how he “should have” said it so I wouldn’t feel offended instead of just accepting that his words come from a good place.
    Thank you so much for writing this article; I hope to always remember it as inspiration to keep my relationship healthy!

  • Lisa

    I do believe this book might just save my relationship. I can’t wait to put it into action and to have my fiance take a look at it. I love him so much and we just recently are reading each other soooo wrong. thank you thank you thank you!

  • Liz

    I want to thank you Betsy for this post; I too am guilty of assuming the worst in others, making up negative stories about their words or actions based on my own distorted perceptions. Your post has truly changed my relationships around and not just with my husband. Seeing that people do and say things with the intention of love and care has enabled me to let down my defences and experience true warmth and affection towards them. This has truly been an inspirational read, and I look forward to reading your book.

  • Hi, Lisa. A practical conversation without any drama is a great start in turning things around. Good luck!

  • Hi, Bernice. Why do we make it so hard to be loved sometimes? It’s crazy, but we all do it to some degree. Awareness is the first step in turning around, though. Good luck!

  • Hi, Brenna. We tried couples counseling, and while I do think it can be valuable, we weren’t in a place to be open to it at the time. In fact, we privately ganged up on the therapist after each session to say all the ways we didn’t need him so we could ignore our problems a little longer! I can’t believe how blind we were. 🙂

  • Yes, Monika, there are other people out there who do this (some are men, too). It always helps to know you’re not alone, right?

  • Clare, what a powerful personal story! I think we do learn much of this in childhood from various family members, but it often takes a big wakeup call to realize it. It’s gotta be hard for our partners to assume the decades-old sins of people they’ve never met. Thank you for sharing your experience to show other people how it can be done.

  • Hi, Crystle. It’s painful to realize this (I can relate, believe me), but it’s also the first step to doing something about it. When you realize you have all the control to change it, your future can be different TODAY. Good luck!

  • Janie, I’m sorry to hear of your separation and hope you are able to work things out. So many times we’re on different pages. Warren and I learned this especially in our business, because being on different wavelengths was pretty obvious as we worked on projects. So we began restating what we thought the task was in front of us before starting. That then bled over into our personal life, and it has been fantastic. Clarity avoids almost all disagreements. Good luck to you!

  • Tracey

    Wow. More wise words, and yes, this is a great concept, isn’t it, Carolynne?
    I think that once we really truly “get” this we can relieve ourselves of a lot of anxiety. How can we possibly worry and get so hung up about what people think of us when we can’t be certain they’re seeing the real us anyway? (just their own warped construction, skewed by their own dramas). Such a powerful realisation this one. Thanks for sharing this!

  • Hi, Dani. This is why I love “the stranger” test. Would a person walking into this situation feel the same way about what he said/did than I do right now? It’s a great way of centering yourself and limiting your brain’s ability to run off and create wild stories. I’m so happy this article helped you, Dani. Good luck!

  • Hi, Caterina. It’s good for all relationships, actually. And the ones that aren’t deserving of your good assumptions will soon make themselves clear, and you can choose to distance or eliminate yourself from those people. It really does elevate your life in all ways to simply choose to believe the people who surround you love and support you even if it isn’t always with the words you’d choose.

  • Hi, Sheree. Isn’t it weird how we often think the person who loves us is out to get us? But our brains are so complex and creative we can create something out of nothing. Maybe we should all be in Hollywood making movies? 🙂 Good luck to you in releasing the extra drama and intensity in your life and family, Sheree!

  • Jamiejoy, “sneaky” is right! It happens so subtly that we don’t realize reality is quite different than what’s churning away in our heads.

  • Tracey

    Morning, Aileen. Time to remember: “I am love”. 😀

  • Hi, Poulviking. Oooh, “the look.” We also had “the tone” and “the shrug” and “the way you said it.” One thing Warren called me out on when we were going through this adjustment was my unclear feedback, which made his response back even muddier. “I don’t mind if we go” is different than “yes, I want to go!” or “no, I think I’ll pass.” I’ve learned to be more clear in a yes/no situation or if I’m ambivalent I’m clear that it’s up to him if we go. Good luck to you!

  • Now that’s a good boyfriend, Mary Lynn!

  • Jane, assuming the best intentions means you know your partner isn’t out to get you if you give it a moment’s extra thought. But if you have proof that he or she is actively working to hurt you or upset you, that’s a completely different issue. It’s no longer you spinning stories in your head. Life is too short to spend it with people who gain joy from hurting others. Have you had a specific conversation about these triggers and set clear boundaries about them? That would be my first step on a clear path that leads me away from that person if they continue to hurt me. Good luck to you, Jane.

  • Hi, Brodi. I am inside your head! 🙂 No, we are all going through so many of the same things but we just don’t say them out loud. I like painting relationships in a very realistic and practical light. You wouldn’t want to read a book about my perfect relationship and I wouldn’t want to write one, because it doesn’t exist. That’s why the new book reveals so many of our warts and failings. 🙂

  • Hi, Nicole. I like that you said it “was” you – meaning you’ve made it to the other side. Congratulations! It’s a lot easier when you don’t think everyone’s out to get you, right? 🙂

  • Seek first to understand, then be understood. ~ Steven Covey 🙂 Good luck, Al!

  • Hi, Sarah. I’m a little overwhelmed at how much this is resonating with people. It just goes to show that what we put on our faces is far different sometimes than what goes on in our heads. Good luck to you in living more in the moment and less in the dark alleyways of the mind. 🙂

  • Oooh, that’s a good one, Mare. Maybe that’s a good sentence to train yourself to ask right away when the stories start spinning in your brain?

  • Hi, Kristen. Congratulations! You are making great strides. When you can view these comments and doubts from the side, walking around them and examining them instead of being inside them, it’s so much easier to see the faulty bits. Good luck!

  • Hi, Hannah. It’s so funny to me how often we are miles apart on something we’ve just verbally agreed on. I wrote in another comment about how this easily shows itself in our work, because projects go off track. We now restate what we think we’re saying/doing in both business and personal and it works wonders with getting us on the same page (and sometimes giving us a huge laugh!)

  • Stace, life is too short to be resentful. You can change your attitude or change your surroundings – whichever one is causing the pain. Usually, we are our own worst enemies. Good luck!

  • Beth, this is a stellar tactic for difficult family relationships. Oftentimes it is just a different style of communication, and giving her the benefit of the doubt will improve your relationship (and your marriage!)

  • You’re welcome, Deanna!

  • Tracey, you know we’re all good enough to deserve love, right? Every single person on this planet. It’s the default situation, and you can’t do anything to make yourself less deserving of love. You can complicate and ruin your relationships, yes. But you can’t take away the fact that you deserve love. You just have to get out of your own way. 🙂 Good luck!

  • Hi, Aileen. We all think it’s just us! 🙂 So smart of you to realize this tendency early in your relationship. Your comment about “stealing my job” reminded me of my favorite quote by CS Lewis: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” When we try to make our relationships like other people’s (or like the movies or books), it’s a sure recipe for sadness. Good luck to you, Aileen!

  • I’m all about action plans. 🙂 I can only think so much before putting it into practice. Good luck!

  • What a great insight, Lauren. These messages do often come from childhood, and it’s hard to overcome that conditioning. I’m so glad your focus on this issue is paying off for you and that you have more joy in your life!

  • Hi, Mel. We should all be screenwriters, shouldn’t we? 🙂

  • Hi, Jumpinjavelina. You bring up a good point in looking to “jazz up” a flat communicator’s meaning. That would be a slippery slope. Good luck in stepping back and enjoying more of your relationship!

  • A valuable insight, Carolynne. We are such complex creatures, made even more complex when we pair up with another person, bringing our past along with us.

    We could go deep into analysis of trying to figure this all out, but the simplest method is to simply assume the best intentions and ask followup questions when in doubt. I always go for the simplest, most practical approach. 🙂

  • Talkmyway

    amazing article. so true.. so clear

  • Michelle Campbell

    ugh, thank goodness it’s not just me that does this! it is hard when you KNOW what you are saying or choosing to project is all wrong but done due to our own insecurities (what is it about being more judgmental of others when we feel least happy with ourselves? sabotaging our own relationships). great post.

  • You nailed it, Michelle. We are more likely to project the bad stuff when we’re feeling the bad stuff about ourselves.

  • Hi, Liz. I’m so happy this was helpful to you. It’s a powerful lesson to learn!

  • Lilly

    Just awesome! I know this all too well and I’m in the process of changing my way of thinking. Life is so much better already. 🙂

  • Sarah

    Its crazy to know just how much you can have in common with strangers. and amazing just how common this struggle is. I always felt like I was hiding my true self in my head. But I really think I need to get out of that negative pattern and that person in my head won’t be so darn mean and assuming. Thank you 🙂 Its a long road, but I feel like I’m finally getting there. I really appreciate your article, it spoke volumes to me. It’s funny because I always knew I over-think things, but I never knew just what to do about it or how to start taking steps to fix it.

  • PJ

    This post inspired me so much. It came at just the right time for me. As a result, I and my partner decided on 5 steps for our relationships.

    1) Every single day, we will compliment or thank each other for something each has done for the other.
    2) Whenever one of us is angry, the other will stay calm.
    3) We will make a passbook of love. Whenever something positive happens, we will credit it and when something negative happens, we will debit it. We will strive to keep a lot of balance in our relationship account. (Oh yes! We are studying accountancy)
    4) Always trust each other unfailingly.
    5) Never blame each other. Never ever.

    6) We will make our everyday lives an expression of love, play and growth.
    7) We will give each other a nice hug atleast once a week.

    5 became 6 and 6 isn’t a cool number. SO we made it seven.
    THANKS for inspiring this. I am also going to write about this on my blog pretty soon.

  • Joy Olson

    Wow! I am so very guilty of this! I do this to my husband constantly and probably do this to many people I have any kind of relationship with. I over think everything, it sometimes can be so crippling, I suffer from headaches daily and I know it is all tension related. I often say that I LIVE inside my head. In reality maybe I am Dying inside my head. I would love to read your book. If it is ANYTHING like this short but very enlightening article, I know it will be so helpful in the growth of my relationship(s).

  • DE

    Betsy well written ” if all else fails, ask for clarification”- We all react on the same event differently and sometime overthink and overreact. we are human being and nobody is perfect. if we can’t understand the in-perfectness in a healthy relationship, it is better to ask for clarification and be vulnerable. I strongly feel, it will clear the air and open up new opportunities in a relationship.

  • Jennifer

    This is wonderful and powerful advice for someone that really struggles from over analyzing.. Thank you!

  • Lynne

    Thank you Betsy – overthinking is something I’ve done for years and thought I was “special” because I could read between the lines when others couldn’t. Subsequently, my “talent” led to many destroyed many relationships. You laid it out plainly – very eye opening, very real and honest. I now have a friend, who “calls” me on my overthinking…I’m learning to retrain my brain; It is liberating.

  • Sonika

    I LOVE your article! So true! We teach people in our work to examine their “made-up” stories about partners, and to work together to change them to more positive stories, which is EXACTLY what you did here. Beautiful! Life-changing all the way around. I always say, “The quality of our relationships is the quality of the stories we live in, the quality of the stories we tell.”

  • Thank you, Betsy!! I was blessed to have received some very honest feedback regarding my previously biased way of viewing the world, and am grateful to have indeed crossed over to the other side as a result of a strong commitment and lots of support from my husband and my chosen family. You’re too right that it’s a lot easier when I don’t think everyone’s out to get me!! 🙂 Owning my stuff is such an empowering way to live. <3

  • Georgina

    Thank you for this. I too always over think things my boyfriend says or does and sometimes I am so racked with anxiety at the stories I have conjured up in my head that I can barely move. With therapy and ALOT of soul searching I realise that the issue is how I feel about myself and not how my gorgeous man feels about me. And I am HORRID to him sometimes but he is still there. I am learning to accept the love that this wonderful man has for me and also to love and accept myself – even when I’m a crazy lunatic. Its a relief to see I am not the only one out there like this! 🙂

  • ADS

    I have the same affliction. In assuming there was always something more involved with a statement or action, I would search for the ‘gotcha’ moment when I could prove there was something more grand behind her words/actions. Since I was attempting to uncover this ‘truth,’ it was often MY words and actions that meant something more than the ‘face value.’ I was projecting and wasting valuable moments when trust and support should have been paramount.

  • Keyara Alexandra

    This is absolutely what I needed to read today. I’ve been sad because of some stories I’ve been telling myself about a really good friend of mine calling less frequently. All of these tips are truly insightful and I thank you for the awareness!!

  • b

    It always amazes me how articles on here are so timely. I’m a new relationship after taking a long time to work on myself. However, I kept making up problems in my head and it’s not allowing me to enjoy my relationship. It is so difficult to change thinking patterns we’ve had as children. Just last night my partner was telling me how he never felt so comfortable in the beginning of a relationship but all i could think about was if he loved his past partners more. It’s ridiculous how I pull “meaning” out of nowhere. So thank you so much for sharing your story, I look forward to communicating better in my relationship.

  • It’s funny how we always give meaning to what people say or do and then get all worked up about what we have cooked up in our heads! Great article Betsy!

  • Aileen

    Indeed!!! So true! It is just sometimes we always see other people around us and trying not to compare become so difficult. hehe…

  • Jamie

    I absolutely love this post – amazing advice!

  • Lesa Naquin

    I am soooo guilty of this. My husband says that I over think everything in my life. Thank you for the article. It’s going to take a lot of work on my part to undo this. I’ve been doing this since childhood but I’m going to start doing this today.

  • lv2terp

    Wonderful post!!! Another Tiny Buddha post where I felt I was reading about me…this in particular…”Overthinking was my specialty, my calling card in life. I prided myself
    on seeing things other people missed, reading between the lines to get
    to the “real” meaning.”. :-/ Gets me into trouble! Part of that is being too attached too..learning to be non attached is helping greatly 🙂 Thank you for this message, advice, and honesty! 🙂

  • sly313

    I am an overthinker. This is exactly the article I needed after the weekend we had together. Thank you so much for this Betsy!!

  • On the path…

    Sadly, this has described me most of my life. I’m beginning to see that if I change my mindset, others will see me differently. Ah, the possibilities!

  • Erika d

    I had an “aha” moment after reading this. It was like a mirror was being held up to show me how I react in many cases. I realized how exhausting and wrong my behavior is, and I intend to work on my hypersensitivity and find the positivity in situations. – Erika

  • Meli

    Thanks so much for this, Betsy. I am a chronic ruminator, and I’m always waiting for the signs that my year-and-a-half old relationship is falling into inevitable doom. It’s hard to take a step back and be calm and objective, especially when I feel like I’m the one with more practice in emotional awareness. In my rare moments of peace, however, I just keep coming back to wanting to see things clearly, including my own limitations and fears, and that reacting with negativity and withdrawal are a habitual response and not terribly useful in resolving conflict. Thank you for offering other actions I can take to balance out my negativity bias 🙂

  • Rochelle Spencer

    I do this all the time! Thanks for a great post!