What does “Benefit of the Doubt” even mean? And how could it actually be unhealthy for your relationship?
This question comes up quite often: “How can we be better about giving each other the benefit of a doubt?” And it is a question that I was also recently asked in a client session.
First, what does “Benefit of the Doubt” even mean?
By dictionary definition, it’s giving your partner trust, even if there are doubts about it.
I find this troubling because sometimes we have a red flag feeling and gut intuition that should not be ignored. Blind trust is not the answer.
However, there are healthy and toxic ways to bridge a convesation with your partner.
I’d frame giving your partner the “Benefit of the Doubt” more appropriately as “Don’t jump to conclusions.”
When you are triggered, and you want to jump to conclusions about your partner’s intentions and actions, here’s the hack.
Rather than ignoring your intuition and trying to access “Benefit of the Doubt” blind trust, I encourage you to find “Alternative Perspective” instead.
Alternative Perspective is one strategy in Behavioral Change science and psychology for uprooting old behavioral patterns and reframing an activated situation with in-the-moment rationale.
For example, if I had a parent who cheated on the other parent, and have been cheated on, my brain starts to form a belief about fidelity in relationship and about the safety of partnership. I may create a belief that “all partners cheat, it’s just a matter of time.” From this position, I would then be waiting for that belief to be proven true, often hunting for the evidence and signs to prove it. So when my partner is delayed in returning a missed call, or shows up late after work, my brain will try to create a connection between these events and my belief “all partners cheat, it’s just a matter of time…and this is that time.”
This scenario includes many thought traps and creates associations between events that are highly likely to be unrelated.
Alternative Perspective disrupts this process.
Here’s a 4 step process for activating Alternative Perspective(sticking with the above example as our guide):
Acknowledge your automatic fear and reaction and ask yourself this question.
This could look like, “Wow, I’m feeling freaked out that my partner is late or not returning my call because they are cheating on me with someone else.”
Then ask yourself, “Do I have objective evidence to prove this or is this my fear and old historical pattern speaking up?”
The answer is very likely “No I don’t have evidence for this and yes it is my fears and old pattern talking.”
List at Least Three Alternate Explanations
Alternative Perspective is so powerful because the technique includes room for all possibilities to exist and acknowledges that just because you’re having an experience, it doesn’t make it absolute (i.e. 100% objective reality).
There could be a million alternative perspectives. When you’re triggered, and you want to put blame and shame onto your partner, I encourage you as I encourage my clients to find at least three alternative perspectives.
Three explanations for the above scenario could be: 1) My partner hasn’t seen my call yet. 2) My partner is having a crazy day at work and can’t be fully present with me for a call. 3) My partner usually calls me as soon as they have the chance and today will be no different.
At bare minimum, one alternative perspective you can always find is:
“My partner was experiencing something that I have no idea about or possibly can’t even comprehend.”
Change is constant but never has to be painful again. I coach my clients to take charge of change and build great relationships. www.jocelynjohnson.coach
Box Breathe Through It.
If you find that you’re particularly activated and spinning out, turn to box breathing to down-regulate your anxiety. This will pull your brain out of fight, flight, freeze and its heightened emotional state into a calmer place.
Box breathing is a breathwork technique where you Inhale for 4 counts, Hold for 4 counts, Exhale for 4 counts and Hold for 4 counts, repeating 4 times or more.
Once Emotionally Neutral, Go to Curiosity, Connection, and maybe, a Request
Once you’re emotionally regulated, it’s important to then go to curiosity with your partner and to reveal what you were experiencing to create connection with them.
Curiosity: figure out what they were experiencing at that time that led to the situation unfolding.
Connection: by sharing what you experienced and the trigger of old beliefs, you create mutual understanding between you and your partner. They can then understand your needs and fears. They can meet you where you’re at and perhaps have more sensitivity when similar situations arise in future. This primes your partner to receive a request from you. And primes you both to create solutions together.
The Request: Once you’ve created connection and mutual understanding, you can then make a request. A request for the previous scenario would be: “If you see that I’ve called and will be too busy to call for awhile, can you shoot me a text telling me that you’ve seen my call and let me know when to expect you roughly?” Alternatively you may say: “In future, if I call and then don’t hear from you for a couple hours, I’m going to shoot you a text if I start spinning out so you know that I’m triggered.”
So in quick recap: Trade in benefit of the doubt for finding alternative perspectives and locate at least three. Go into curiosity. Share what you experienced with your partner, and ask your partner what they were experiencing in tandem so that you guys can reach a place of mutual understanding.
And remember, it’s rare that we both have the exact same perspective on any situation in life, whether it’s with a romantic partner, a friend or a person walking down the street. You can apply this process for any triggering situation that sends you spiraling.
As ever, if you have questions, you can book a FREE Possibilities Call with me, you can submit your own question, we’ll be answering them on Happy Partners Project Instagram and with our email subscribers.
Wish you nothing but love and healthy happy relationships from here on forward. You get to decide. You are the creator and designer of your life.
Jocelyn Johnson is the founder of Happy Partners Project and the creator of the Relationship Check-In (TM) Method, the acclaimed science and psych-backed process for strengthening relationships and empowering couples to create their best relationship. She coaches couples and individuals to integrate conscious relationships habits, heal relational wounds and accelerate change. She is certified in Cognitive Behavioral Coaching, Neuro-linguistic Programming and Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy.
This post is from the Happy Partners Project — a mission-driven e-commerce company designing and delivering products that support couples and individuals with building and sustaining healthy and blissful relationships.
Happy Partners Project is also the creator of the acclaimed “Relationship Check-In™ Method” — a science and psych-backed process for strengthening relationships.
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