Making Stuff UP
One of my favorite things to explore with couples and really, everyone I see in therapy is what they make up. When I first introduce the idea, I typically get a "huh?" look and then, more often than not, a "I don't make up anything, I know what he/she's thinking." I get it, I do. When I was first married I just knew that my husband was mad at me when he came home and was quiet. If a friend didn't respond the way I though she should, it was because I was sure that I did something wrong or if I didn't, then something was wrong and she didn't want to tell me so something was wrong with me because otherwise she would've told me. We make things up all the time. We do judge books by their cover regardless of how we were taught not to. It is human nature.
So why is all of this important? It's important because so often in relationships, we have feelings based on what we've made up--so it's what we've made up that brings the feelings of anger, sadness, rejections, or whatever negative feeling we have.
It looks like this: I come home and I notice that my husband didn't take out the trash, again. I am livid because this is the millionth time I have asked and it didn't happen, again. Why am I livid? Because in my head I have made up that my husband is entitled and taking advantage of me. My husband comes home and notices that I am not happy. He asks, "Is everything OK?" I give a terse, "yes" and says "OK" and sits down and reads the paper. Now I am really, really livid. I am making up that he knows that I am mad and if he really cared, he would draw it out of me, and since he didn't, then he doesn't care and then the trash becomes a catastrophe of epic proportions because the meaning of it all is that he is entitled, he enjoyed taking advantage of me and the bottom line is that he doesn't really care about me at all. Does any of this sound familiar?
Rewind. Now suppose I walk in the door and I notice that he didn't take out the trash. I am aware that I am making up all of the reasons why he didn't do it, but I am aware that it is what I am making up. He comes home, sees I am not happy and asks, "Is everything OK?" But this time I say, "Well, maybe. When I came home I noticed that you didn't take the trash out and I made up that you are entitled and that you are taking advantage of me. I was pretty angry when I thought about that. Would you please remember to take the trash out?" And this time he says, "You know you're right. I did forget to take the trash out. I can see why you might think that" and from there we can go on to find out how this can work for both of us. Maybe he does the dishes and I'll take out the trash--or maybe he comes up with an idea that reminds him to do it next time. Who knows? But what I do know, is that when we begin to take responsibility for what we make up and check it out, we are often wrong. And, even if we are right, then we know that there is something to work on that will hopefully bring about a change that works for everyone.