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Understanding Each Other
Rick Garlikov

Misunderstandings abound.  Some are trivial; some are significant. We recognize many of them right away, but some take years to recognize, if we ever recognize them at all.  Those that are significant and that are recognized later rather than sooner, are often devastating in ways they would not have been had they been recognized right away.

There are reasons for so many misunderstandings.  And sometimes it is amazing that there is actually as much understanding as there is, and that we can understand each other at all.  It is actually a complex process to take a perception or idea you have in your mind and translate it into words in such a way that another person can use those words to form the same perception or idea or to recognize what your perception or idea really is. 

It is easy to see this if you think about trying to describe in words something like the taste of an unusual or uncommon spice.  You generally need to simply let the other person taste it too.  It is real clear how it tastes to you, but that clarity cannot normally be put into words. 

It is also easy to see when you go about trying to teach someone something that seems relatively clear and simple to you, but you discover that trying to say it in words takes pages and pages you didn’t expect. And often the relationship between the paragraphs or statements in those pages is complex and complicated in a way that surprises us, since the relationships they describe are clear and simple in our minds.   Our ideas, I believe, are not necessarily verbal, but conceptual in some way that itself defies description, as when people say “I know how to do this; I just don’t know how to explain or describe it in words.”

But the problem exists in simpler and more openly observable, tangible, descriptive cases too.  When I was a senior in high school our rather eccentric English teacher once in a while gave an “A or F” test, where one mistake earned you an F.  If she hadn’t been just lovably crazy, and if the F’s had not counted for as little as they did, that would have bothered us all, but the announcement of these tests mainly brought about more of a collective “what crazy thing now?” groan with an anticipation this was going to be so screwy it would probably be hilarious – some day.  So on this one day, she sprang one of her “A or F” tests: the boys had to write how to tie a tie; the girls, how to tie a bow.  Right away, the boys who at that time only ever wore “clip on” ties when they wore a tie at all, knew they were dead.  But the rest of us had hope – which turned out to be false.  We wrote our essays, and the next day the grading began, using the following process. She had brought in a tie and she had brought in some ribbon.  She selected  volunteers to stand up in front of the class as she read out the instructions each of us had written.  The volunteer was to follow the instructions precisely as she read them.  If at the end of the instructions, the tie was tied in what looked like an appropriate tie knot, or the ribbon was tied in an appropriate bow, the writer of that paper received an A, otherwise an F.  There were not many, if any, A’s.

My particular failure particularly exasperated me.  I liked wearing a full (or “double”) Windsor knot, which is more intricate to tie than a “four-in-hand” knot, and I was intent on showing off how to tie that.  So I did.  And I wrote it clearly enough that I should have received an A, since the knot the volunteer tied, as you will see, was a Windsor.  But the tie she had come in with for these trials was some tie made out of material thick enough to have been a blanket – some really very thick and also unbelievably wide, relatively short, twenty or thirty year out of date, tie.  When the volunteer finished tying a double Windsor in that tie, he ended up with a knot the size and shape of a baseball (even though it was actually tied correctly in a double Windsor) and no tie “flaps” at all hanging down from the knot because all the material was in the knot itself.  F!”  This was in the day of thin, narrow ties, and I protested the grading procedure was unfair because she had used such a thick and wide tie and it should have been a modern, normal tie.  She replied “Then you should have said that, and you didn’t. F!”  Foiled again. Nuts! And, of course, I hadn’t said that because it never for a moment occurred to me she would have brought in some tie like that, or even that there were ties like that.  It was something of the reverse of the scene in the Crocodile Dundee movie where the street punk pulls a knife on Dundee and demands to be given his money, and Dundee says “Why should I give you my money?” And the punk says “Because I have a knife.”  And Dundee says “That is not a knife” as he pulls out and shows the kid his huge Australian hunting knife and says “This is a knife.”  If that movie had been available when I was in high school, I could have said “That is not a tie; this is a tie.”  It would have been funny in light of the movie scene, but I still would have got an F, because she would not have “bought it”.

 Now, in part misunderstandings occur because language is imprecise and it is not always easy to explain to someone else an idea or feeling you have.  In this regard, it is often interesting to  come across a foreign word or phrase that perfectly expresses a feeling or idea you may have had that you previously couldn’t figure out how to describe, showing that the limitation wasn’t so much yours as it was the words and range of expressions you had available in your own language.   When you try to explain the idea or feeling you have in mind using your own language, people can easily misunderstand it.

 For example, in American culture as of this writing, the fashion is for women to be thought to look attractive and desirable, they should be slender and fit; anything else is considered to be fat, while to be more overweight than just fat is described as obese, and beyond that descriptions go into “big, fat” or “grossly obese”, etc. However, despite the efforts of Hollywood or Madison Avenue to convince us otherwise, many men find most appealing in terms simply of external appearance women somewhere in between “hardbodied” or slim on the one hand and “fat” or “obese” on the other.  In English the words we have to express that shape we like, a shape, which, for example, Marilyn Monroe had, might be “voluptuous” or “a woman with some meat on her bones”. [1]  But “voluptuous” has a connotation of being desirable because large-breasted (unless we are talking about “voluptuous lips”) and “having some meat on her bones” tends to convey that anything less is scrawny, which is not necessarily true, and can also apply to a person’s being muscular or “substantial” or big and heavy in some sense that does not necessarily convey desirability.  Yiddish, however, has a word that, in the right context and tone of voice conveys the idea perfectly – zaftig (the first syllable rhyming, fittingly enough, with “soft”).  This means something like “pleasingly plump” (though that still does not convey the desirability of it and still has something of a negative connotation) or the phrase I heard once that I liked: “built for comfort, not for speed”. A zaftig woman is “ample” in a soft and pleasing, most desirable way to snuggle up against or to press against in a romantic embrace.   But saying in English that a woman is “ample” or “pleasingly plump” or “has some meat on her bones” does not convey the idea that zaftig does.

 In part, misunderstandings also occur sometimes because the subject matter is not sufficiently narrowed-down in a specific passage or conversation for the audience or listener.  The easiest example of this sort of thing is in a conversation where someone is relating a story about two women and starts out a sentence with the pronoun “she”, and the listener doesn’t know to which woman that refers.  But it happens in much less obvious ways too that make a statement seem false, rather than simply unclear or ambiguous. For example, in some of my writings about schools and education, I have in mind suburban middle and upper middle class schools.  While many of the ideas also will apply to urban or rural schools with less money and which have students with different background experiences and knowledge, often they apply just to relatively affluent suburban types of  schools.  If I don’t specifically point that out, invariably someone will correctly say it is not true of a school in a blighted urban environment, and I have to go back and qualify my comment, which then sounds like I am trying to hedge or that I didn’t know what I was talking about.  This kind of error is just like the error of not specifying the “test tie” above should be a relatively long, narrow, thin, modern tie.  I knew what I had in mind but didn’t think (I had) to say that.

 Another cause of misunderstanding is that we can often be ambiguous or imprecise without either the speaker or listener realizing there is an ambiguity, and both take it the opposite way without knowing there was an opposite way.  For example, in doing glamour photography, I sometimes have my subject recline on her back with her knee bent and slightly elevated.  It turns out to be extremely difficult then to convey how I might want her to adjust her hand position if she has her hand somewhere resting on her hip joint.  If I say “raise your hand a bit higher” meaning put it further up your leg a bit toward the knee, the subject will often move it the opposite way, going higher on her torso, or move it upwards toward her navel, because it is higher than her hips.  Once in a while someone will even just elevate her hand into the air, thinking I mean for her to raise it away from her body toward the ceiling.  All these are perfectly good understandings of the word “higher”, but I tend to forget that sometimes, and if the subject does not ask what I mean by “higher” because she doesn’t realize there are more than one sense of it, she has a good chance of moving her hand in the direction I did not intend.

 Another example of the latter case, though not because of verbal ambiguity but because of the conditions, perspective and the way our perceptions occur, would be a conversation at a cocktail party where you are talking with someone and point your head toward a woman across the room and say “I think that woman in the red dress is really sexy.”  And the listener takes a look and says with some degree of irritation “That is my mother you are talking about!” And you say “That’s impossible, she can’t be any older than you are, and is probably younger.”  And he says “That woman in the red dress, talking to the bald man in the black shirt.”  And you look and say “What bald man in a black shirt?  I am talking about the woman in the red dress – the one standing by herself near the wall, on the other side of the lamp.”  You are talking about two different women – either because your vantage points are just enough different that neither of you can see the woman the other person sees, or, more likely because you are each focused on a different woman to the exclusion of noticing that there is another one not terribly far from her that also has on a red dress.

 And this latter sort of mistake is not just one involving misunderstand through communication.  One of the most common mistakes in photography is to take a picture from too far away from your subject and end up with all kinds of foreground, background, and space off to the sides that you never noticed, because you were looking at ”what your mind sees” and not attending to “what your eye sees” – which is what the camera is seeing and is shooting – thus including all kinds of things in the picture that you never noticed even though you were looking right at them.  All the additional elements end up making your main subject seem far more distant, and thus much smaller, than it needed to be.

 This occurs not just in vision, but in listening and even in feeling inward things.  We often attend to only partial aspects of what is within our audio range or to what we might be actually feeling if there were some way to capture it in the way we can capture audio or visual experiences using sound recordings or cameras.  For example, if you ever play back a recording of a phone conversation you just had, it will not have anything like the intimate qualities of the conversation you actually “experienced”.  There will be gaps and false starts and all kinds of elements in the conversation that you never noticed while having it.  Similarly if you video tape a classroom lecture from the back of the room – a lecture you were enthralled by as a student in the classroom – you will usually not find the video enthralling at all, but cold and distant.  As to inward feelings, one common experience is finding that a really good movie, for example, can make you not notice (or as is usually said, “make you forget”) you have some sort of terrible pain such as back pain or pain from a recent surgery.  We can have feelings without “attending” to them.  Even severe pain can be eliminated at least temporarily sometimes if you are just distracted enough or able to focus your mind on your own elsewhere. In the movie Lawrence of Arabia, T.E. Lawrence is showing two other soldiers how he can put out a lit match by pinching it out with his thumb and index finger moving slowly upward into the flame.  One of the soldiers tries it and drops the match, complaining that it hurts.  Lawrence agrees that it hurts.  The soldier asks “Then what is the trick?” And Lawrence points out “The trick is not minding that it hurts.” There are ways to do that.  It is about not attending to the pain.

 Another easy mistake that causes misunderstanding occurs in saying something like: I love strawberries; they look and taste just great.  In terms of “looks” you might be referring to their texture or shape more than to their color, but the other person is focused on their color and assumes that is what you mean.  In terms of taste, you might mean simply the flavor, but they might have in mind the flavor along with the texture or the sweetness of the flavor.  You might both agree without ever realizing you are not agreeing about the same thing.  (More about this later, because this is an important point in regard to relationships.)

 But in many cases, particularly in relationships, there is a more central problem that causes misunderstandings.  You are clear in your mind what you mean by your words, and the other person is clear in their mind about the meaning of your words, but the two of you do not mean the same thing, are not focused on the same thing, and do not even know there even is something different that you could each be meaning.  Obvious examples are where two people profess to love each other, but they each have different understandings of what that means, where one means s/he finds the other sexually desirable, and the other means s/he finds the first just really enjoyable to be with, perhaps because of the conversation and topics they discuss.

 This problem is even perhaps worse when misunderstandings of this sort are not even verbal.  For example, I enjoy good conversation about certain kinds of ideas (usually philosophical, ethical, or psychological ideas, but also some scientific ones, perhaps particularly in theoretical sciences).  But in my having great conversations like that with women, and showing obvious enthusiasm and excitement in talking with them, that sometimes is interpreted by them as meaning that I like their minds or that I like them.  Sometimes I even interpret it that way.  But what is more likely is that I simply am interested in their ideas the way they are expressing them.  I may not find the way their mind works with regard to other topics nearly as interesting or exciting.  I may not find them attractive in some other way.  But unless I or they know that immediately or find that out later, we each may go on thinking there is some sort of attraction there that is more general than it really is. (Again, more about this later.)

 Because, however, intellectual attraction is a very meaningful thing to me, it sometimes happens that I do find the partner in this conversation becoming much more attractive to me than I may have found her to be initially.  For other people, sometimes it is a different form of attraction that makes someone appear more attractive than they do just from surface appearance at first sight.  It is interesting how this does or does not work.  Sometimes people who have “fallen for” each other through letters or e-mail (without exchanging pictures) will find the other person very handsome/beautiful when they finally do meet – though they probably would not have, had they not corresponded first.  Sometimes they will be disappointed in the other person’s appearance and the attraction from the correspondence will not be able to overcome that.  In short, some things we like or dislike about a person may color our reactions to other aspects of them, but it is difficult to know in advance when that will happen, and often even difficult to tell afterward.  Many friends often counsel their friends who are in love with someone who is no good for them: “Listen, it is your libido that is talking here.  If you didn’t lust after this person, you would find him/her disgusting. S/he is not your type at all; and when the sex wears off, you are going to wonder what the hell you were thinking.”   An interesting question for me about this is my passion for Jane Austen because of the elegant wit in her writing and her observations about people.  I first read her novels as an adult and fell in love with the way her mind works.  However, the drawings I have seen of her make her appear (given the clothes of the time and the lack of expression, etc.) to be most physically plain or unattractive.  It tends to make me wonder whether I might have been smitten by her in person or not – if she talked in the manner in which she wrote.  That latter, of course, is questionable, since I have met authors I admired, who in person made me want to ask who wrote their works for them, because they seemed to think and talk nothing like their writings.  That was always a major disappointment to me.

 So while this often happens because sexual attraction overrides one’s other perceptions, this doesn’t have to be about sex.  Often, particularly if someone has been in a bad relationship, finding someone who is simply nice will be a very powerful attraction.  If you have not been treated nicely before or if you perceive yourself not to have been treated nicely before, the next person who treats you nicely or that you think does, may be someone you fall in love with – not because you love “them”, but because you love this one aspect about them so much that it colors all other ways you see them.  And people who marry someone just because they are nice, often find out sadly that that is insufficient. 

 Now many misunderstandings may never be known.  Unless a “differentiating” situation arises that shows the misunderstanding (or one’s own mistaken belief), it is unlikely to be known except through some sort of accident or coincidence in conversation. 

 To see what I mean by a “differentiating situation” take some easy cases first.  Consider the strawberry case above. You are talking about the color and the other person is talking about the flavor.  So they serve you something like, say, strawberry flavored cake or lemonade, and you don’t like its taste at all, and they see that.  They might say “But I thought you liked strawberry!” and you say “Well, yes, but I mean the color, not the way they taste.”  That is a case of a differentiating situation – a circumstance that allowed or forced the misunderstanding to come to the surface.

 Or as more commonly happens, some company discovers people love the taste of strawberries, and they come out with an artificial flavoring that can be put in almost anything.  So your friend, in a case where you did mean you liked the taste of strawberries, makes you a strawberry cake.  Or she buys some sort of strawberry flavored drink or a drinking straw that has some sort of strawberry flavor component that imparts strawberry flavor to anything you drink through the straw.  There is a good chance you may not like any of these things, because unknown even to you there is more to the taste of strawberries than just that chemical that gives the “main” flavor, and this artificial flavoring lacks that, which shows that even you were mistaken about what it was in strawberries that you liked.  It could be texture; it could be some other chemical in with the main flavor chemical; it could be that mixing the ingredient that makes strawberries taste great with something else kills the enjoyment for you.  An obvious case is mixing two foods you love individually but that taste disgusting together or just not all that great.  Strawberry mashed potatoes for example does not sound that appealing to me, though I have not tried it.  I have eaten the popular strawberries with chocolate sauce on them, though.  I like strawberries, and I love chocolate, but I don’t care for them together, and I don’t understand why they are popular.  Many people like peanut butter and banana sandwiches.  Although I like peanut butter sandwiches and I like bananas, I don’t like peanut butter and bananas together.

 Or perhaps you are both talking about the color of strawberries.  And you agree they are beautiful fruit because of that color.  Then you come home from a week long business trip one day and your spouse, in order to pleasantly surprise you, has had the living room (or bedroom) painted strawberry color.  You are taken aback, your spouse notices you are not excited and appreciative, and says “I did it for you.  You said you loved the color of strawberries.  This is strawberry color.”  And, of course, your answer would be something like “I meant they have a beautiful color for a berry [or for a small fruit] – not that I like that color on anything and everything.  I wouldn’t want a strawberry colored Ferrari, for example. I wouldn’t want your hair colored strawberry color (and I mean pink, not as in ‘strawberry blond’).”  Your seeing and reacting to the room’s being painted strawberry color is the differentiating situation.

 This is not a whole lot different from the situation where you admire (even with sincerity) something another person has in their home, and someone who loves you overhears that and then buys you one of those for your birthday.  You may not have meant you wanted one; just that you thought it looked good in their home. I, for example, like looking at various landscape paintings and photos, but I seldom shoot landscape photos.  And I would even more seldom want to buy or display one.  Typically if I do shoot a landscape photo, it is a scene I think that no one else would likely have noticed or thought to portray, or I have composed it in a way that no one else is likely quite to have captured. If I were to buy one to hang, it would have to be different in that way also – not just a scene that anyone might have photographed or painted, but something that is both appealing and also a unique perspective or rendering.  But if I am in someone else’s home, and they have a pretty landscape with nice colors and all, even though I may not want it for myself, I am still likely to find it pretty or beautiful and honestly say so.

 In relationships, when differentiating cases arise that make you have to amend a previous claim, it often leads to acrimonious and abusive accusations that you are now splitting hairs or were lying before and are now trying to equivocate by fabricating distinctions or trying to wiggle out of the truth.  It is most unfortunate when that is your partner’s perspective if it is not true – in cases where you were genuinely honest and sincere about what you thought but simply did not express it in a way that conveyed to them the same idea you had.  In short, if you were honest before but a misunderstanding arose because of any of the above forms and limits in communication or in your own perceptions, then your partner has jumped to unfortunate conclusions about your character and has responded in a way that is hurtful and potentially seriously damaging to the relationship.

 Of course, even if you and your partner accept there was merely a misunderstanding and understand the grounds for it, that may not be sufficient to salvage the relationship.  The strawberry living room for example, may just be an amusing anecdote to recount and make fun of for years, but finding out one’s partner does not love them in the way (or for the characteristics) one thought they did, might be a significant impediment to the relationship.  One way to perhaps tell is whether the relationship would have proceeded as it did from the point of the misunderstanding if the misunderstanding had not actually occurred – if the differentiating experience happened at the time of the original conversation or perception.  E.g., if you knew some guy liked you for sex or because of certain ideas you had about some topic that was not really all that important to you, you might not have become involved with him in the way you did because you thought he loved you for features for which you wanted to be appreciated and loved.  And he, if he were an honest and decent person, would have wanted to avoid the misunderstanding in the first place if he had only known it was occurring or that he was giving a false impression he didn’t even realize he could be giving.

 Giving a relationship time to discover differentiating circumstances that uncover misunderstandings is one of the reasons not to “rush into” a relationship.  But the problem is that differentiating conditions may take years to arise, if they ever do.  And the longer they take to arise in regard to uncovering some important misunderstanding about the relationship, the more devastating they can be.  But such misunderstandings are a fact of life and they need to be recognized as such, not as one particular person’s fault for either not stating his/her ideas precisely enough to begin with or for the other person’s not having paid enough attention to know what the first meant.  Misunderstandings are often simply a mistake that occurs without one person’s being at fault or more at fault than the other.  If I genuinely say I love the flavor of strawberries without conceiving of the notion of a strawberry cake and how it might taste, and you genuinely think I would love to have a strawberry cake, it is not the fault of either one of us that when you bake me a strawberry cake, I don’t enjoy the cake.  It is not that I was lying or was carelessly imprecise.  It was not that you were not really paying attention to what I said.  It was a misunderstanding, pure and simple between the two of us – it took both of us to make it.

 And though it may be difficult to distinguish between a misunderstanding that is accidental in any of the above ways (or other ways I may not have thought of) and a deliberate deception, a sensitive person aware of both kinds of possibilities should be able to distinguish a misunderstanding from a lie in various way – particularly through the genuine surprise and disappointment of the partner who finds out s/he was misunderstood.  Not many people would be good at faking that or covering it up.  Sometimes the differentiating circumstance lets the speaker see immediately how what s/he had said was imprecise or ambiguous – as when I tell the reclining photo subject to put her hand a bit higher (meaning toward her upright knee) and she moves it toward her torso, or when the speaker comes home to find the strawberry living room.  But often the speaker will still be clueless why the partner is angry and feels they have been deceived or lied to, because the speaker will still not see how the partner is understanding the original communication and simply repeat that communication and say it is true.  And often in such cases, the listener will not see there is a misunderstanding and think the speaker is just repeating the lie or has, at best, deceived himself.  So, for example, if Tom says he loves Sue, and does something he thinks consistent with what he means, but Sue thinks it is inconsistent with how she understands love, and they do not see they have different meanings, he can protest till the cows come home that he does love her, and she can respond for just as long that he clearly is lying or deceiving himself.  They will be at an impasse forever unless they can figure out how what they mean by “loving the other person” differs.

 To take a case from the pop culture of the book and movie Love Story, one of the famous lines in it was “Love is never having to say you’re sorry.”  While there is some sense in that, normally it is false.  Love often requires genuinely saying you are sorry the minute you realize you have done something wrong or that has unintentionally hurt your loved one’s feelings or disappointed them.  But suppose Tom believed the line from Love Story and didn’t express that he was sorry, even though he was.  And suppose Sue believes my version – that one should express regret or give an apology if one loves the other person or even cares about their feelings at all.  Unless they uncover their different understandings of the place of apologies or expressions of regret in a loving relationship, she will continue to think he doesn’t love her and he will continue to think she has no reason for that.

 Or take the case of a woman who thinks a loving husband would take her out or on nice vacations or bring her gifts, but her husband thinks that love is shown by his obvious affection for her and joy of being with her and the “little things” he likes to do to make her happy.  She may believe and say he never shows her he loves her and he may believe and say he always shows her he loves her.  She may feel he is unappreciative and he may feel she is ungrateful.  But that is a misunderstanding, not a lie or deception.  And it is important that they find some sort of differentiating circumstance that exposes the misunderstanding.  That may not be sufficient to help their relationship, because he may not want to buy her things or take her places she would like to go even when he finds out that is what she wants; or he may do it but resent doing it and he may resent that she does not appreciate the things which he enjoyed doing for her and how he simply felt about her.

 And this can be about something even simpler than that.  Suppose Sue says she needs something from the store, and Tom says he will get it.  Sue may mean she needs it immediately but doesn’t say that, and Tom may normally go to the store shortly after saying he will.  But if Tom does not pick up on Sue’s request being urgent, and if he only previously had coincidentally gone to the store immediately, but today had some other errands he needed to run, when he returns six hours later, instead of thirty minutes later, the conversation might go something like this, with Sue being extremely angry, and Tom being totally surprised and hurt by that:

Sue: You said you were going to the store, and you didn’t.

Tom: But I did!  Look, here is the stuff you wanted.

Sue: But you didn’t go when you said you would. [She means he did not go to the store right away.]

Tom: But I did. [He means he said he would go today and he did go today.]

Sue: But you didn’t come back right away.

Tom: Right. I didn’t even go right away.  I picked this up on my way home.  [He is still not seeing the problem; and she is still not seeing there is merely a misunderstanding.]

Sue [now stating what will turn out to be the differential circumstance]: But when I said I needed this from the store I meant right away [because …], and when you say you are going to the store, you always mean, you are going and coming back right away.  And you didn’t do what you said.

Tom: Well, I am sorry I didn’t realize your need was immediate or I would have gone to the store then and come back right away; but I never meant before that I was going right away to the store.  I just happened to do that always before, I guess, because I didn’t have anything else I needed to be doing.  I never really thought about it one way or the other in terms of going right away.  I just meant I was going to go at some point; and I guess in the past I just happened to go and come back immediately.  But that was just accidental.

 It seems to me that in a case like that, normally Sue should see Tom did not lie to her or intentionally cause her distress; and she should see he was not being unduly obtuse to her needs, unless she had said something like “Would you please go to the store and get my insulin, I am out; and I ordered a refill that should be ready now.” Then, of course, he should have known that was an immediate need, even though she did not say so. 

 There are, of course, other ways this conversation might have taken place, and each might have nuances that should let Tom know the need was immediate or let Sue know that Tom did not realize that, thus heading off all the disappointment and acrimony.  E.g., Sue might usually say, when the need is not immediate “Tom, whenever you happen to go to the store next, would you pick up some coffee.  We’ve only got about a week or two left.”  And so her asking him to go to the store to get coffee might have prompted him to ask “Do you mean now?  Are we out of coffee?” Or she might have said in the first place, “Tom, we’re out of coffee; would you please go get some so we can have it with breakfast.”

 The potential for these kinds of misunderstandings happens frequently, and often we recognize them immediately, or we just accidentally prevent the misunderstandings by the subtleties of language in the above paragraph.  And, of course, most of them are over trivial or insignificant matters, so they don’t particularly chip away at the foundation of the relationship.  All the above only becomes important when the misunderstanding is over something significant for the foundation of the relationship, and when it is not discovered until much time, effort, and emotions have been invested in the relationship.  Then, in order to handle such a significant issue in the best possible way, it is important to realize that there simply was a misunderstanding and how no one is at fault for causing it, so that one does not compound the problem caused by the misunderstanding with hurtful accusations based on faulty perceptions of what caused the problem; i.e., the other person’s supposed serious character flaws.

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[1] In a “Hi and Lois” comic strip in the newspaper one time, Hi and his wife Lois are both sitting on the couch reading.  She is looking at a magazine that obviously has some pictures of Marilyn Monroe in it, and says “You know, by today’s standards, Marilyn Monroe was fat.”  He looks at her with astonishment and says “Yeah? You should be so …” and then he realizes this was not being smart to finish (and that he has already said too much) and shuts his mouth and continues reading his book.