Reality Check: The Big Sigh

Memorable sayings aren’t always elegant and this one, though a little crude, is also unforgettable: “Assume—it makes an ass of u and me.”
Making an assumption doesn’t literally turn you or me into a body part. (I know because I’ve tested it.) However, assumptions can certainly contribute to relationship difficulties.
Miriam appreciates that her niece, Louise, takes the time to visit her weekly to keep her up to date with the family happenings.
Last visit, Miriam got the impression that Louise would rather be elsewhere. She seemed impatient and had even let out a big sigh while Miriam was talking.
Miriam fretted over the big sigh. Had she offended Louise? Had she forgotten something? Good grief, did she forgot Louise’s birthday?
Maybe it had nothing to do with her. Is Louise having trouble at home? Is she anxious about the kids? What if it’s something awful that she doesn’t want to share?
Miriam mulled over every imaginable possibility. Ultimately, she worked herself into such a state that she called Louise and told her not to visit next week.
Louise is baffled. She thought her aunt cherished their visits. Yet, Miriam seemed so abrupt on the phone. Was it something she said? Had she offended her? Good grief, did she forget Miriam’s birthday? Maybe Miriam is ill and doesn’t want to worry her! The possibilities are endless.
There you have it. Two people who genuinely care about each other suddenly have a relationship that’s fallen off the rails. When you look at what actually happened, it’s all the result of a sigh.
What might prevent this sort of misunderstanding?
Miriam had interpreted Louise’s sigh as a signal that she’d rather be elsewhere. Was that the case? How might Miriam find out?
It could be helpful to ask, “When you sighed just now, were you telling me something? What do you want me to know?”
It may well be that Louise wasn’t trying to communicate anything with her sigh. Perhaps she found the room stuffy or just needed a little more air. If so, now Miriam knows. The sigh wasn’t frustration; it was a physical response. Their relationship continues.
On the other hand, if Louise really was feeling impatient, isn’t it more helpful to know? Then, they can proceed in a way that works better for both of them.
The most effective way to communicate that you genuinely want information is to genuinely want that information. So if you choose to ask, refrain from accusations, defensiveness, or judgment. For example, asking a closed question with an implied answer, such as, “Am I boring you?” is not the same as asking the open question, “What were you telling me when you..?”
Sometimes people do use nonverbal communication or mixed messages with the intent to hurt. It happens. Even then, asking can be helpful. If nothing else, it indicates that you are actually paying attention. It may even put the brakes on unspoken hurtful actions by bringing them into the open for discussion.
Do you think that asking for clarification is helpful or harmful for relationships?

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