Thursday, July 29th, 2021

R Shopper Columns


You and your husband are driving to the store and you say, "If you had taken the interstate, we would have made better time." He gets upset and sarcastically says, "Sorry. I do everything wrong." Now you are upset and say that all you were trying to do was make a suggestion. It was not meant to be criticism.

Why does he tend to take your suggestions or opinions as criticisms? Is the problem in the way you word or present them? Maybe sometimes- but not all the time. Most likely it has to do with how he feels about himself in relation to you.

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. There are layers in our filter system such as: 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.

In a distressed relationship,
each partner assumes that the other one
has negative intentions
behind their messages.

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 they agree with us.

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

We can change the way we feel about certain messages by changing our interpretation. One way to do this is 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: we cannot assume that our interpretation is the only one. Before getting upset, try speaking your 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