No matter what your age, assumptions, generalizations, and expectations (AGE) will kill romance, and even the relationship, just about every time.
Human beings, male or female, are complex outcomes of how they’re hardwired, the meaning they make of themselves and their place in the world, and the world in which they grow up. I’m not a fan of statistics but I do know enough to say the combinations are endless — finite, but endless.
In other words, no two people are exactly alike.
Maybe because of our need to manage those unmanageable numbers we make generalizations about “what is a man” and “what is a woman”. As a therapist I sometimes fall victim to simplification myself rather than taking the elements of a couple as two different people and not the generalized version of their gender descriptions, e.g. men are stoic and women are emotional.
I’m not the only perpetrator. Societies generalize all the time, with changes usually coming over time, and in sometimes cataclysmic ways. In American society think women getting the vote, same-sex marriage, or race relations.
Some generalizations take their time dying. For example, every newly married couple — and some long-term ones — have expectations based on generalizations. Same with expectations each gender has about the other. Our society generalizes about roles, sex, happiness, conjointness, privacy, emotionality, rationality, areas of competence, and so on.
Otherwise life is way too complex.
Take sensitive men, for example, with their thoughts, feelings and behaviors contrary to the alpha model. Or women whose thoughts, feelings, and behaviors run to competitiveness and control. It’s not just men who have to wear a mask, women do, too. A guy might get away with wearing a pink shirt if he’s otherwise kick-ass. A woman CEO has to wear more than perfume in order to be relabelled from pushy, bossy, or bitchy.
Expectation-based thinking is insidious in most of us, hetero- or homosexuals alike. That’s trouble.
Human interaction is expectation-based, often uneducatedly expectation-based. We generally modify expectations about the physical world based on trial and error — that’s called learning. But when it comes to couples, for instance, generalization-based assumptions are wedged tightly into our psyches and seldom disappear for good.
In other words, a failing grade is earned in Relationship 101.
Relationships don’t have to die, or even fail. Examining automatic thinking is work. There’s another way; it’s harder, but it works. Paying attention to gray matter chatter is the first step in breaking an AGEing brain away from automatic thinking. Automatic thinking is a passive process; no thought goes into it at all.
The more active (read “aware”) the process of thinking, the fewer assumptions, generalizations, and expectations we hold about our partner and our partner’s role in the relationship. It’s active thinking that can give partners insight into each other — the real other, not the generalized versions.
If a relationship stands a chance, AGE has to be put aside.
Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist specializing in couples. She and her husband, David, teach couples how to avoid the destructiveness of AGEs. They offer a Secular Couple Communication Workshop throughout the year; the next one begins September 25th. Check it out!
Copyright, 2015 Being Heard, LLC