Sometimes I come home later than I told my wife I would. I don't do this on purpose, of course, I just sometimes get caught up. And sometimes it's not even my fault. Sometimes there's a traffic accident, or I get caught in a really long line at the store. And sometimes my phone dies so there's really no way I can tell her.
My wife sometimes loses track of time too. Sometimes she says she'll be back at a certain time and she's not. Or we agree on a meeting place and she doesn't show for a long time. And when she does this, I wonder how she could be so thoughtless. I wonder why she doesn't care enough to give me a call. She is so selfish to not realize other people might be worried about her. Doesn't she know what's she's doing to me?
Sound familiar? Doing what I just mentioned is called a Fundamental Attribution Error. It's called that because it is a mistake (error) we all as humans (fundamental) when we incorrectly judge a person's character by their actions (a form of attribution). In short, it describes how we blame our personal problems on outside circumstances, but blame others' problems on their character. ("I was late because I had a flat tire. She was late because she has no respect for other people's time.")
And this happens all the time in marriage.
She's late because she's just getting back at me for what I said earlier (actually, a meeting ran late at work). He's ignoring me in the office because he hates to help with the kids (actually, no one can hear anyone from that back room). I can't believe he didn't answer my text (actually, the phone just died).
It's important we learn to recognize when we do this because understanding this common mistake will relieve a lot of angry tension in our relationships. If we let our attribution error go too far, we are ready to fight just as soon as our wives come home and before we find out that there was a five-car pile-up on the freeway. We create tension that doesn’t actually exist, which usually leads to a fight that actually does. The good news is that there is a much easier and simpler way to deal with these moments of frustration, and that is this:
Seek to understand.
Remembering this little sentence will do wonders in those moments of tension and confusion. It reminds you that your wife doesn’t actually hate you or do things out of spite. It forces you to remember that you both love each other and that there might just be a rational explanation to this unmet expectation.
It’s not easy to allow others the same forgiveness and grace we give ourselves, but when we do we fill our lives with so much more peace. Sure, be concerned when your wife is 30 minutes late, but make sure the first thing you ask her is “What happened?” and not “Do you know what time it is?” One question seeks to understand. The other seeks to instill guilt and creates an unwanted separation between you and your wife.
Seek to understand in love, and avoid this fundamental attribution error.