The Benefit of the Doubt

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Sally Connolly, LCSW, LMFT has been a therapist for over 30 years, specializing in work with couples, families and relationships. She has expertise with clients ...Read More

How many of us have done dumb, stupid or hurtful things that affected our partner? Probably all of us have intentionally or unintentionally hurt someone we love. The research shows, in fact, that most people will do something that is hurtful to their partner in any long-term relationship.

How many of us have done nice or neutral things that our partner has misinterpreted as mean, evil or hurtful?


The Wilson’s have certainly gotten into a tough spot. Neither of them seems to be able to do anything right…even if they are trying to turn things around.

Sherry knows that Jim loves the lattes from their neighborhood coffee shop. The last time she brought him one, really as a peace offering, he thought it was a bribe just to get her way.

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Suzi and Bill are stuck in the same cycle, especially around sex. Suzi wants simple physical affection from Bill and yet, when he tries to hug or kiss her, she sees it as his attempts to move directly to sex.

Bill sees her backing away as a power move to hurt him.

When couples move into this negative pattern, it is so hard to see the other’s attempts to repair the damage as anything but manipulative maneuvering. I often hear partners say to each other, “I cannot afford to let my guard down with you or you will roll all over me“.

And yet this is exactly what must happen in order to move forward. If even half of a couple can let his or her guard down and see a step forward as a positive thing, give their partner the benefit of the doubt, progress can happen.

In healthy relationships, couples are able to act in positive or neutral ways when their partner does something that can be interpreted as hurtful or mean-spirited.

When 4 year old Timmy was whining and crying, Sherry and Jim thought he might have a fever or have a cold coming on.

When 11 year old Sarah began to have problems with friends at school, Suzi and Bill thought she might be having a tough time adjusting to middle school and looked for ways to help her adjust to the new setting.

If parents can give their children the benefit of the doubt, they need to learn how to do the same for each other.

Changing the way that you think about your spouse can change the way that you feel about your spouse and certainly affects the ways that you act with and react to him or her.

Find ways to slow down your thinking and acting until you are calm and can think it through. Believe in your partner and his or her willingness to do things in the best interests of the relationship. Err on the side of the positive.

Keep Reading By Author Sally Connolly, LCSW, LMFT
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