“My spouse should know how I feel and what I want; I shouldn’t have to tell him,” Cindy thinks. She believes her husband should know when she’s in the mood to go out for pizza, not sushi, and vice versa. He should know what she wants for her birthday. He should know what turns her on sexually. She wonders how he can be so clueless, but she doesn’t say a word.
Cindy has been duped by the My Partner Should Read My Mind myth.
Actually, there are people who are able to get their needs met without saying a word. They are called infants. A mother learns to read her baby’s cues. She soon knows which kind of crying means “I’m hungry,” “I’m tired,” or “I’m uncomfortable; I need my diaper changed.” She understands which body movements and facial expressions say “I’m scared,” “I’m happy,” and “I want that.”
What Maintains the Myth?
Adults who find partners who can read their minds exist in fairy tales and romantic movies. There, charmed couples don’t need to be told how to give the perfect kiss, gift, and massage.
What do these examples of mind reading have to do with real-life adult relationships? Very little, even in the best of marriages. Usually the best way to feel understood by your partner is to clearly communicate what’s on your mind kindly and respectfully. Even the most sensitive, intuitive spouse cannot read your mind, any more than you can expect to read his or hers. Yes, in a good relationship there will be some tuning in to each other. Just don’t expect miracles.
If your self-expression was stifled when you were young, you will have some catching up to do as you learn to feel more comfortable saying what is true for you. This is okay. Doing so will become easier and easier as you continue to practice speaking up, using the communication skills described in my book, Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love (chapters 7, 8, and 9).
A good way to start saying what’s on your mind is by making I-statements, which are direct expressions of how you feel, what you think, what you like or don’t like, and what you want or don’t want. They begin with the word “I.” For example, instead of hoping her husband will intuit that she wants pizza, when he suggests sushi, Cindy might say calmly, with a warm smile, “I’d actually prefer pizza this time.” Her husband most likely will want to please her and be glad she said clearly what she wanted. Of course, there is no guarantee that we’ll get the response we want by making an I-statement. An I-statement is free of expectations; it is about clear self-expression.
Cindy’s husband might say he doesn’t feel like pizza and suggest that they try the new, nearby Indian restaurant. The discussion can then continue until they arrive at a plan on which both of them agree. Were either of them to remain silent about their preference and go along with the other’s, a grudge could build, especially if their pattern is to expect each other to mind read, which is a recipe for disappointment.
Agree to Communicate Honestly and Openly
If you find it difficult to say what’s really on your mind and in your heart, it may help to understand why. Many people hold back on saying what they think, want, and feel because they fear that doing so will make their partner uncomfortable, which can happen when the partner feels obligated to solve problems rather than to simply listen. If this sounds like your situation, you might want to talk about the importance of being open and honest with each other and of accepting each other’s thoughts and feelings as valid. You can add that neither of you should be expected to fix things for the other, that the goal is for each of you to feel heard and understood.
When we free ourselves from the myth that a partner should be able to read our mind, we are able to create a thriving, fulfilling relationship — by expressing our true selves with each other. And what could be better than that?
Annoyed woman photo available from Shutterstock