THE BLOG
03/29/2013 12:11 pm ET Updated May 29, 2013

The Dogs And Cats Of Relationships: Are You Over-Reading The Signs?

Fighting like cats and dogs can be one sign that a couple may be heading towards divorce. Often, couples get caught in the trap of over analyzing, misinterpreting and building resentments because of simple errors in communication. These errors lead to conflict, resentments and oftentimes contentious divorce. Men and women often think differently, whether the cause is the brain or behavior. It is no wonder that within our conflicting patterns of communication the wires get crossed. When communication begins to break down, there is a simple solution: stop searching for hidden meaning.

Relationships are fraught with language, and frequent breakdowns in communication can cause major challenges. There are words we use to directly communicate, the non-verbal cues of facial expressions and body language and even the short-hand of shared experience that couples use when in private. Language, however, has its issues. In any mode of communication, there is a disparity between the intent of the message and perceived meaning of the message. This can cause problems, as we try to find meaning in words or actions that may essentially be meaningless. Within a relationship, this search for meaning can be dangerous. Misunderstanding and manufacturing intent for a perceived message lays the foundation for eventual divorce.

Think of a dog and a cat. Their language, in fact their brains, read meanings in completely different ways. When a dog wags its tail it is saying, "I'm happy; let's play." When a cat's tail flicks its tail it is saying, "I'm hunting; I'm about to pounce." You can see the language barrier clearly when observing pets interacting. When a dog approaches a cat, tail waving excitedly, the cat will shy away. The cat perceives the dog's actions as a threat. The same problem occurs in reverse. A dog will approach a cat with a waving tail thinking that the cat wants to play -- until it gets a swat in the face.

We're the same way when interpreting the meaning of language, whether it's words, expressions or tones. Like the dog and cat, we need to keep from over-analyzing meaning behind the actions and words of others. When your significant other comes home from work with an attitude, it probably isn't you they are angry with. Or when your partner forgets that dinner with the Jones's is tonight, that doesn't mean they weren't listening. They probably have other things on their mind and trust you to keep them on track.

If your spouse doesn't directly tell you something is wrong, don't assume that his or her actions are about you. One of the hardest things for people to do in relationships is to stop the cycle of interpreting meaning where there is no meaning. Here are three questions you can ask yourself before getting upset.

• Is this a one time occurrence or part of a pattern? If its one time, drop it. Don't waste your energy on a fluke. If its a pattern that upsets you, address it with kindness and provide possible solutions. Keep in mind that the solution may involve changing your behavior. For example, if your spouse is always upset coming home from work, give them a little space. Leaving them alone for an hour will give them time to adjust from a rough day or long commute.

• Am I over-reading? Like the dog and cat, we put meaning to actions and words. If your spouse says, "I'm tired; can I skip the party tonight?" they are probably just tired. They are not avoiding you or skipping your friends or family. Let them rest and feel comfortable going out on your own.

Am I communicating clearly? Are you wagging your tail and not getting the response you want? This could be a sign that your partner doesn't understand the language you are using. Instead of attempting subtlety, be clear with your intentions and actions. Facial expressions and body language might not be read correctly. If you don't directly state your feelings, he won't know them.

A healthy relationship involves communication. But that communication needs to be clear and understandable. We also need to stop over analyzing our relationships. Don't interpret all of your spouses actions as a message to you. They aren't. Your spouse feels and sees the world through their own filters. If they want you to get a message, they will explicitly tell you. Relax into your relationship. That's one key to happiness.

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