The Danger of Mind-Reading in Relationships
Can you recall the last time you were confused in your relationship because you couldn’t find an explanation as to why your partner was behaving in a certain way or why they said a particular thing? Or the last time you felt worried that things were not going too well because something happened that you saw as a bad sign?
Mind-reading in relationships is much more common than you might think and a reason that leads many couples to seek relationship counselling. In simple terms, mind-reading a habitual thinking pattern characterised by expecting your partner to know what you’re thinking without having to tell them or believing you know what your partner is thinking without them telling you.
Maybe you recognise some of these thoughts:
“She has been on her phone texting all evening, I bet she thinks I am boring”
“He wasn’t very talkative during dinner, I bet he is thinking of leaving me”
“He hasn’t emptied the dishwasher again, he clearly doesn’t care about me”
“She hasn’t wanted to have sex with me for ages, maybe she’s seeing someone else”
In each of these scenarios, there is one piece of information that is clearly missing – the thoughts/motives of our partners. So, we fill in the gaps with what we assume they are thinking and this can be a major problem in relationships.
The Impact on Relationships
In my experience as a relationship therapist, I would argue , that a degree mind-reading goes on in all relationships. Which often comes from an innate, human tendency to fill in the gaps around things we don’t fully understand.
Unfortunately, however, most of us tend to fill in those gaps with a worst-case scenario. We are also inclined to personalise a situation and ‘make it about us’ as opposed the view that our partner may have their own reasons for doing or not doing something. Reasons which are nothing to do with us.
While the impulse to mind read is natural, the consequence can be incredibly harmful to our relationships. Couples end up in arguments over problems that don’t really exist. When we feel hurt or upset based on our mind-reading we tend to attack the character of the person with critical, unhelpful statements. Such as “you are really selfish, you never think about me!”
Sometimes, people tend to assume the worst-case scenario simply as a defence mechanism to guard against being hurt. However, the impact these beliefs have on our relationship has consequences. Ultimately, it doesn’t ultimately matter if they are true or not. Because if we believe our partner meant to hurt us, even when they truly didn’t, we will still react to them as if they did. So the impact on the relationship is real.
Taking responsibility doesn’t mean we are to blame. It means we must challenge ourselves to look for fact and not respond negatively to our partner based on our beliefs.
What if we didn’t fill in the gaps with the worst possible version of events? Whatif we made the intentional choice to assume the best about a situation when the information was missing.
What if we went a step further? What if we actually asked our partners to tell us what they actually meant by something they did or didn’t do, rather than trying to read their minds?
We are all guilty of running conversations with our partner through our heads. Questions sometimes flood our minds as we reflect on what was said. “What did he mean when he said that? Was he implying that it was my fault?’ This tendency to over analyse leads to us walking away from interactions only to later decide that something happened that we should be upset by.
When we find ourselves reflecting on a conversation, instead of believing that our partner’s comments or actions were meant to hurt us. We can choose to take what they said on face value. And we can choose to assume they did not mean to upset us because they care about us.
Ask for Clarification
If you are hurt by an interaction with your partner, then just be honest. But be responsible for ‘how’ you say it. Starting a sentence with “I felt upset” rather than “you upset me”. There is nothing wrong with calmly explaining what you have read in to something. But at least allow them the opportunity to clarify what they actually meant before you respond in an upset manner.
We want our partners to fully understand us, but it takes more effort on our part to invest the time to make sure we fully understand them. When we feel hurt we can reach out to our partners and ask if they meant to be hurtful. This gives them the chance to tell us what they were thinking when something happened and whether or not it was intentional, accidental or simply an unfortunate misunderstanding.
Sometimes, we are short with those closest to us because we feel animosity toward them. However, more often than not (outside of an argument) most people do or say things for their own reasons, not to upset their partner. This doesn’t mean we don’t have every right to tell our partner that something has upset or hurt us. It’s simply an invitation to not automatically assume they were being malicious toward us. Sometimes a text gets missed because it was opened in a meeting and they haven’t had a chance to respond – it doesn’t have to mean we were being intentionally ignored.
When we create internal narratives around what another person must have meant without actually asking them to share their intentions or perspective with us. We run the risk of wasting valuable, emotional energy being upset over something that is largely a creation of our own imagination.
A More Honest Way Forward
So, if you are looking for a more happy and healthy relationship, the best solution is to leave behind the mind-reading behind. And instead choose to utilise, one of the simplest, but sometimes hardest to execute powers in our relationships – open and honest communication.
If you would like some professional help in how develop more open and honest communication in your relationship – please contact us now Request an appointment