If you want to improve your relationship, one cardinal rule to follow is - don’t expect your partner to read your mind. This seems obvious, right? But many people operate this way, in an unconscious manner, almost daily.
Why is this a problem? Because most of us fail at mind-reading (or fail to succeed consistently) which leads to lots of problems:
Expecting our partner (or parent, child or friend) to meet our needs without even asking, can also keep us personally unaware of our expectations and prevent important conversations about each other’s ideas, feelings, wants, needs and priorities.
So, how does this show up in our lives? Listen for things like:
If you really loved me, you would know…
I shouldn’t have to tell you…
- Then, finish with “what I need” or “what I want” or some variation of that.
These beliefs keep the speaker unhappy and prevent a partner from being successful at pleasing. So what’s the answer?
A Clear Request is Part of the Answer
Imago Relationship Therapy teaches couples to see this dynamic and shift out of mind reading into clear requests that can be received or negotiated. We also believe in adding praise and appreciation on a regular basis, so both partners start to feel happy and connected, instead of frustrated, powerless, unloved or unappreciated.
The topic of “asking” a partner to meet a need in therapy usually helps the couple’s history to surface where they “tried” to ask, and the partner refused to grant things. Pushing harder, or backing down occurs where the “asker” starts to shame, blame and criticize. Or, even becomes passive-aggressive.
The resistant partner also exhibits these tendencies and resentment builds on both sides. Later in therapy, it becomes, “Why should I be the one to ask?” or “Why should I have to make a list?”
The short answer might be, because s/he is not you, and this is something YOU want. Plus, is the way you are doing it now working? or as Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that workin’ for ya?”
Of course, it hasn’t been working because typically both partners resist change. We resist even if we know intellectually that growth through change is valuable. Why? It takes effort.
We want to be loved and accepted just as we are, right? Also, it scares us to lose a sense of self if we give over to too many requests. There are many reasons couples struggle and resist each other.
But when both people learn about the right kind of effort; about how to shift the Power Struggle effectively and in a balanced way, it’s a win/win!
A Better Way to Mind Read
So here is where mind reading can be very helpful. There are times when we are unhappy (disappointed, angry, etc.) yet may not be fully aware of our feelings, or we don’t know why we have a feeling, or we blame someone else automatically.
Or we aren’t aware of what to do to even feel better. This is where the Eastern tradition of mindfulness can be very powerful. There are many benefits to this practice, and I will highlight one.
For this Blog, I lovingly call Mindfulness “Mind Reading” because we start to be more aware of what is actually in our own mind, from moment to moment.
When we have a greater awareness of feelings, thoughts (or “stories” we tell ourselves), and expectations, and then learn to pause, we can start to recognize our reactivity, our expectations, and our feelings of disappointment.
With practice, we look at what we just noticed in our-self, begin to question, challenge and dispel in order to take action. Over time we become less helpless, less frustrated, and more empowered. With practice, we start to see things we did not know were there.
Here’s an example: “Oh my gosh, I just realized I was expecting you to read my mind just then!” or “I just realized I expect you to load the dishwasher [or feed the baby, fold the towels, or do whatever] the way I think it should be done and that I have no tolerance for a different style.”
If we start to notice these things in all scenarios, we might next notice how we push away the efforts of a well-meaning partner!
How Do We Become Mindful?
We can start by choosing a practice to try.
Join a mindfulness meditation group. A group is a great way to learn from others in an ongoing way and get personal feedback.
Try a mindfulness app like Headspace. It can send you a daily reminder to practice plus guide you and teach you in a fun and engaging way.
Journal daily for 20 minutes or more, where you write whatever pops into your head. This is called “stream of consciousness writing”.
Another simple practice I like to teach is to “check-in with yourself” 4 times a day. You choose (and commit) to 4 times a day where you pause briefly and intentionally notice any thoughts, feelings, body sensations, sights, sounds, tastes, and smells. It is a brief but powerful opportunity to gather info about the self.
I’ve done all of these practices and find they all have value. After 15+ years of practicing, I am much more mindful throughout my day, and notice if my body is “off” or my thinking is blaming, for example, and I can also notice when I need to offer up compassion for myself.
Whatever approach you choose, I encourage you to try it 5 times or more, as anything new is awkward, and it takes time to get used to a new practice and find value in it.
Focus on curiosity and a sense of adventure whenever possible. And, read your mind without judgment. If what you notice about yourself leads to judgment, you simply notice that too!
Over time you are going to become adept at mind-reading! With that increased self-awareness it can benefit how you feel and how you connect in your relationships.
Awareness in Action: A Personal Example
I recently went to my home town to visit my family. My mother likes to have lunch out each day while I am there. I have an awareness that when I first see my mother, I feel very generous about where we go out to eat - her favorites are Perkins or Ruby Tuesdays. So I offer to go there, and she’s content.
After a few days, I like to expand to healthier, creative options with interesting atmospheres. Since I think of my time there as a “holiday”, I want to try new places, as Minneapolis is a city with a plethora of fabulous restaurants. So, when my mother then suggests a place like McDonald’s, I start to feel annoyed.
Knowing about this pattern we’ve run for decades, before I arrived last time I asked my mom to come up with new places we’d try. I thought by asking ahead of time, she’d put effort into variety for me. Well, she didn’t. As usual, I felt like I was forcing her to go to new places she didn’t like simply so I could have a good salad. So, there we were - two slightly cranky lunch partners!
Because I didn’t get a need met, even one I asked for, instead of allowing myself to react in a negative way, I decided to get curious inside myself. As I did my mind-reading, I became aware of my thoughts and feelings around this old dynamic. What came up for me is the contrast between how my mother enjoys herself and shows love versus how my father used to enjoy himself and show love.
I actually realized that part of my personal happiness and excitement about restaurants, food, travel, and leisure activities is from when I would see my dad a few times a year and we’d go to new restaurants, and sometimes to a live show (ballet) or a movie, boating, tennis, or even a ski trip!
Our visits were exciting! (Now they weren’t perfect, because sometimes I was left alone to my own devices in a strange ski lodge, but that is a whole different subject!) For the most part, I really enjoyed those outings for the novelty and things we shared. I think I felt special or valued by my dad in those times.
Now, in contrast, my mother was the one who raised us and showed her love by being consistent, going to work each day, supporting us financially, taking us to meet grandma at the mall each week. That was certainly another love language that I internalized. Yet when I travel I want novelty, so of course, I want to explore some of the many Minneapolis restaurants!
Having my mindfulness practice enabled me to see these two opposite influences at a deeper level, and own inside myself that I value them both. During my visit, I could temper feeling let down with Mom, accept how different we are, and then I could remain an adult, and stay in connection with her, versus allow my inner child to act up, get cranky, sullen, and contribute to a less fulfilling visit.
When I carry that dynamic with my dad, forward to my adult partnership, I can make another connection. My partner calls Friday night “Date Night”, and to me, date night should be special. Therefore, I can see clearly, why, if my partner pushes me to choose where we eat, or if he chooses the same place each week, I will feel like I am not special. The element of novelty, planning for me/us, or surprising me, is missing.
Next, if I can share with my partner what I learned growing up from spending time with my parents, in a calm, vulnerable way, so he can really hear me and have empathy for me, he will be more likely to stretch and make sure he surprises me or gifts me occasionally. He won’t have to wonder why what he calls “Date Night” fell flat. Since we live in a very small city, with few dining options, I can offer some restaurant choices that he knows will make me happy. He can choose from those, make the reservation, pick me up, etc. And when I notice and appreciate that effort (even if not perfect), he feels successful and motivated to do it again. Win/win!
So even after all these years of practicing mindfulness/mind-reading, I continue to have new realizations and make personal connections that contribute to my healthy relating.
Mind reading is exciting! I hope you decide to give it a try and devote yourself to the practice.
This blog post was written by Stacy Bremner, MA, RP, Registered Psychotherapist.
Stacy Bremner is in private practice in North Bay, Ontario, Canada. She holds a Specialized Honours B.A. in Psychology and an M.A. in Human Development. She is a Registered Psychotherapist (RP) with the CRPO (the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario), as well as a member in good standing with the OAMHP. Stacy is also a Certified Imago Relationship Therapist with Advanced Clinician status and a Certified Imago Workshop Presenter.
For two decades, she has assisted individuals, couples, and groups. She has taught a variety of workshops on topics such as relationships, communication, sexuality, healing, self-awareness, creativity, and self-help. Stacy has a background in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), Meditation and Mindfulness, Psychodramatic Bodywork, Conscious Core Transformation (CCT), The DNMS, Discernment Counselling, and PACT. She also continues to study and teach in the area of Couplehood and sexuality.
Even before she became a Psychotherapist, Stacy was a spiritual seeker and passionate about her own healing journey. Areas of study for Stacy include Kabbalah, Buddhism, and ACIM (A Course in Miracles). Because she is so passionate about her work, she cannot resist the desire to upgrade her skills in an ongoing way through reading, attending workshops, and teaching. Stacy feels that all these efforts contribute to her growth as a well-rounded person, a therapist, and a spiritual being.
Check out Stacy's website: www.ameetingofminds.ca