Let’s Talk Relationships: Is my assumption true? Unpacking the stories we tell ourselves about other people


For the Recorder

Published: 05-31-2024 1:57 PM

When our partner or another individual in our life says or does something that leaves us confused or troubled, there is a human tendency for us to create a story about it. Basically, we jump to conclusions. We don’t have all the facts, so we fill in the blanks based on our own assumptions, interpretations, insecurities and judgments. Not only that, we end up believing what we conclude, with certainty, as if it is fact. However, to quote author, researcher, and podcast host Brené Brown, “Quite often the stories we make up are well off the mark.”

For example, if your spouse or partner comes home in a lousy mood, you may assume that they are angry with you. Since you don’t have a full understanding of their behavior, your conclusions may turn out not to be true. Perhaps they had a really rough day at work, or maybe they had been outside in the heat and they are exhausted.

Another example could be that while you are in a store, you bump into a new acquaintance that you were hoping to become friends with and they appear distant or cold. You make up a story that they have no interest in interacting because they don’t really like you and they are not interested in being friends. In actuality, they just received some bad news and were not up for socializing.

I am amazed at how often this self-created storytelling goes on within each of us. We all have an inclination toward ascribing meaning to another person’s words or actions, perhaps due to our natural proclivity to try to make sense of the world around us. We draw from our own experiences, fears, and vulnerabilities, and end up believing we know the reasons behind the words and behavior of others.

The problem with stories of our own making

We create unnecessary upset for ourselves in our relationships due to these stories we tell ourselves. As mentioned, it is not only easy to create stories but to absolutely, completely, and utterly, believe them to be true. When we believe something has been said or done with negative intention, this can create distance, stress, anger, hurt, anxiety, pain — you name it — within us. We then act from these feelings in ways that can hurt the relationship further. In the example above, we might ignore this new acquaintance whom we believe does not like us, in the future, and therefore not give the potential friendship a chance to grow.

What can we do?

We may never be totally free from the habit of creating stories, but we can take better care of our relationships by making an effort to become aware of this common tendency. Instead of automatically believing our own thoughts to be true, we can pause and recognize that we are jumping to conclusions that may indeed be incorrect. We can then loosen our grip on what we believe is the reality, and be open to learning what is truly going on for the other person.

What I recommend is to reach out to the person and say something like, “The story I am telling myself right now is that you are … leaving all of your dishes for me to wash, or … angry with me about something, or … not up for having a conversation with me right now.” Then ask, “Am I right?”

It might take courage to share with the person what your story is. You might feel vulnerable sharing your innermost thoughts, fears and assumptions. However, authentic, transparent communication is necessary in order for our significant relationships to flourish.

It’s worth it

It is worth taking the extra step of checking in with the person to see if what you are thinking/assuming aligns with the person’s actual reality. The risk of firmly believing something that turns out, as Brene Brown says, to be “well off the mark,” is way greater than the risk of asking for clarification and getting a reality check. I do believe that most times, when we check it out with the other person, we learn that what is going on for them does not match what we are believing. And this would be really important to know!

I am cheering you on to:


Notice and catch yourself when you are caught up in a story/belief about someone’s motive for what they say or do.

Then, let the other person know what it is you are thinking, to find out what is true.


Instead of automatically assuming our perceptions are correct (and they sure seem to be, at the time, right?), we can engage our partners, friends, and all those we maintain strong relationships with in a more open and honest way. I have found in my work with couples that assumptions, unexpressed over decades, create an enormous wedge between the partners. But it’s never too late. Whether assumptions have been going on for a long time or are just coming up in the present, they can be shared, brought to light, and worked through. People can break through the distance that assumptions create, and find their way back to each other.

Amy Newshore is a couples therapist/coach who earned her Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Antioch New England University and went on to train in the Developmental Model for Couples Therapy along with NonViolent Communication which serve as the foundation of her work as a Relationship Coach. For more information visit her website at www.coachingbyamy.com.