Statistics from the American Psychological Association show that 40 to 50% of first marriages in the United States end in divorce. The divorce rates for second marriages rise to 60%. Whether you are married, cohabiting with, or dating someone, various factors cause problems to arise. Often, though not always, they can be resolved. A common factor that is rarely named is called “mind reading.” According to Judith S. Beck (1995), an eminent cognitive behavioral psychologist, mind reading is a cognitive distortion in which someone believes they know what someone is thinking and reacts accordingly. In simple words, mind reading is the assumption that you can understand someone’s state of mind from their words or actions. Therefore, the mistake most partners make is to assume that they know what the other is thinking, making assumptions about their intentions based on observations or their own feelings. Mind reading can cause irritation and even anger within a relationship or marriage and it will certainly cause problems with communication. Thus, its no surprise that most conflicts start when partners make assumptions about what the other is thinking in a particular situation.
Many relationship issues begin as minor issues. These issues cause small irritations that, when left unaddressed, grow into resentment. Mind reading causes many communication problems because it can leave both partners vulnerable to anger and resentment. Stop assuming you know what your partner is thinking and just ask. Once couples start asking each other what they are thinking or what they meant by something, there is no space for misunderstandings. This doesn’t guarantee that partners will never fight, but they can positively reinforce their relationship with good communication and understanding. After all, if couples are addressing their problems with mind reading, they have already solved one of the top communication issues that lead to divorce.
Another type of mind reading is believing that our partners should know what we are thinking. Basically, we expect our partners to be mind readers. In this situation, we tend to believe that our partners ought to know what we want, how we want it, and when. Most of the time, we are left feeling disappointed and angry. Again, the way to solve this is by communicating with your partner and just telling them.
People believe that if something that might hurt the other person, is better to be said without the exact words, or without directly saying it. The truth is, this is not a better way to communicate a message. Being vague will leave your partner confused and left to come up with their own interpretation of the message, which could be worse than intended. Mixed messages and hidden meanings will leave a bitter taste. Therefore, it is important to say everything you have to say.
People think that mind reading is romantic. This way of thinking usually comes from movies and novels where partners complete each other’s sentences. The truth is that even a partner who loves you cannot guess your innate desires. The most romantic thing is expressing your desires to your partner and having them hear you and offer you what you expressed with your words.
People think that their partners know their needs. This is false. Yes, when relationships grow, partners grow close together and understand each other better. However, we as human beings also tend to grow and change as individuals. There is no way your partner can you’re your exact needs and deliver what we need at the time we need it. We must communicate and verbally express our needs every time we need something and help our partners make it happen.
Another common myth people tend to believe is that dropping hints should be enough for your partner to know what you are feeling or thinking at that moment. Being direct and asking for things is easier than wasting time and energy hinting at something then experiencing disappointment.
Last but not least, we sometimes tend to assign meaning to our partners’ actions. Instead of creating your own reason why your partner did what they did, which is most often much worse than the truth, we should just sit down and ask them about it.
Mind reading issues in relationships.
It is a well-observed phenomenon that unhappy couples have the tendency to attribute their problems to their partner’s character flaws. This negative thinking leads to viewing even normal behavior as negative. Over time, partners are more and more likely to blame each other for the problems that arise. Once this pattern becomes a habit, improving your relationship becomes practically impossible. When we mind read, we tend to perceive ourselves as innocent, making ourselves feel defensive because we think that our partners are out to get us. By feeling that we are innocent, we fail to accept our responsibility for our problems. This way of thinking makes us view our partners in a more negative way, which leads to distrust and low satisfaction in the relationship. Changing this way of thinking, from negative to positive, does not mean accepting everything or doing unrealistic positive thinking, but shoving your problems under the rug only leads to more damage.
Develop healthy self-doubt.
It is important that we understand that we, as human beings, can be wrong. Being aware of our actions and mindful of our thoughts helps us be aware of judgements we make without acting on them, and being able to question them instead.
Take a look at your own needs and emotions.
Often, when we blame our partners, we put all the responsibility for our problems on them. In reality, we may act like this because we are hiding our own needs or emotions. To improve your relationship, you need to change how you say things. Instead of blaming your partner, you can express your feelings about a situation and what you expected.
Process the past.
Unfortunately, situations that haven’t been addressed have detrimental effects in a relationship because they come back and create a distance between partners. Likewise, traumatic experiences in your past or your partner’s past may have caused a maladaptive way of thinking. It is important to sit down with your partner and process any traumas from the past. When you understand how your experiences are affecting your thoughts, you can stop pointing fingers.
Tell your partner clearly what you need.
Whether it is emotional support, intimacy, sex, help solving a problem, or anything else, letting your partner know what you need is important. Yes, this can be hard, and you may feel uncomfortable becoming vulnerable and hope that your partner is reading your mind so that you don’t have to expose yourself. However, directly telling your partner what you need gives you an opportunity to improve your emotional connection with your partner. It is through this process that we can create a secure bond and intimacy.
Ask them if they understood.
Sometimes, you might feel that you directly told your partner about what you need, and as honest as you have been, you continue to find yourself disappointed. It is important to have a conversation with your partner and ask them if they understand what you want. If your partner has difficulty doing what you have asked, discuss it with them and try to help them understand or reach a compromise.
Ask more questions.
Focus on creating communication that promotes an in-depth understanding of each other’s perspectives. Once both of you feel understood, you can move to acknowledging any problems and finding a solution. While asking these questions, leave all assumptions aside and just take in what your partner is saying in that moment. If you feel that you’re falling back on the habit of making assumptions, take a step back and take a break. Always give your partner feedback and be willing to accept it, too, whether negative or positive. Always keep in mind that sometimes, the answer can be no. Sometimes, your partner cannot meet your needs. And that is fine. If, after all the effort, your partner remains unable to satisfy your needs, then you have to decide if it’s worth getting that particular need met within the relationship or through your partner. Sometimes, our needs can be satisfied by others, such as family and friends. Finally, keep in mind that just as your partner cannot meet your needs sometimes, there will be times that you will also be unable to meet your partner’s needs.
Many of us realize that it is unreasonable to expect our partners to read our minds, yet we sometimes still feel hurt and upset when our needs go unmet and our thoughts go unheard. Unfortunately, in intimate relationships, there is an expectation that if our partner truly loves us, they will know what we want. This is not only unrealistic, but it is also dangerous, as it creates a negative way of thinking in the person who adopts this expectation. The solution for communication problems and mind reading in relationships and marriages is good communication and an understanding that there is a possibility you might be wrong, and the other person is right. The assumption that our partners will always know what we think, feel, or need is unrealistic, but we can reduce our disappointment and confusion by being vulnerable with each other and openly sharing everything in our minds and hearts. Partners who engage in clear and concise communication avoid the pitfalls of mind reading and ensure that their relationship is deep and healthy.
Beck, J. S. (1995). Cognitive therapy: Basics and beyond. Guilford Press.
Kazdin, A. E. (2000). Encyclopedia of psychology, 8 Volume Set.