Monday, March 8th, 2021

R Shopper Columns


'There is so much to do around this house that I never have time for me. All I do is work.' Often what her mate hears her saying is, "You never help around the house. If you did, I would have time to do what I want."

So his angry reaction is: "I help." One of the problems with this exchange is his interpretation. He interprets her to be blaming him when maybe she is saying that she is feeling overwhelmed by all she has to do.

Her remarks may not be about him; nevertheless, he personalizes them because of his interpretation.

I find that one of the problems in most conflicts, and in communication, has to do with our interpretation of what we are hearing and seeing. Interpretation is influenced by our listening filter system. Unlike the car filter system that takes out impurities, our listening filter system can distort, contaminate or even add to what is being said and seen. The received messages pass through layers in the filter system. Some of these layers are: how we are feeling about ourselves at the time; how we see ourselves in the relationship; our wounds, our expectations, and our history with the topic. By the time the message passes through all these layers, we may have a different interpretation than what the speaker intended.

A husband and wife rented a rowboat and went fishing. After a couple of hours, the husband said, "I will never forget how I accidentally cut my hand on a knife." The wife said in disbelief, "You are so forgetful. You cut your hand with a pair of scissors." "Listen!" said the husband, "I ought to know how I cut my own hand. It's my hand and I say it was with a knife."

The argument became so intense that the husband threw his wife out of the boat. Since she couldn't swim, she began to sink under the water. What really got him was as she went beneath the water; she raised her hand and made the sign of scissors! The point is this: we can never assume that our interpretation is the only one. A real danger is when our interpretation moves out of the arena of an opinion to that of a fact. When our interpretation is seen as a fact, then we know the truth and our partner is wrong until he/she agrees with us.

In a distressed relationship, each partner assumes that the other one has negative intentions behind his/her messages. We can be certain that this belief will distort the message when it passes through the filter system. "We usually see only the things we are looking for - so much that we sometimes see them where they are not." (Eric Hoffer)

We can change the way we feel about certain messages by our interpretation. Since our interpretation can be one of many when decoding our partner's message, it is wise to pause and explore other ways of interpreting. Since our interpretation may be wrong, we need to share it with our partner. "This is what I hear you saying. Am I correct?" It is wise to remember that we cannot assume that our interpretation is the only one and to speak our interpretation out loud to see if it is what the speaker intended.

Dr. William E. Austin is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is a therapist with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services . He is well known for his warmth and sense of humor. His book, Creating Our Safe Place - Articles on Healthy Relationships, can be purchased through

Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700