The fantasy of mind reading in relationships

How many times have your heard your partner say to you, “You should know what I’m feeling, you’re married to me?”  or “Why didn’t you do, this/that/the other, you know me?” This is the art of “mind reading” and its what most people expect of their partner when they have been together for a while.

There are two types of mind reading. They are guessing what another person is feeling or thinking, and attributing intentions or purposes to another person’s actions or behaviours. As babies, we needed our parents to be able to do this in order for us to communicate our needs, before we learn to be able to communicate for ourselves. When we were hungry, we wanted our partners to read our body language so they feed us, or when we were feeling sad, so they would comfort us.

However, we cannot read anyone’s mind, know what they want or what they are thinking. No one can actually read your mind. As adults, we have the language to communicate our needs, and it is important we start to do so. As we all know, the English language is notoriously bad at being specific, with words having different meanings to different people, depending on the meaning we give to that word.

There are so many ways to interpret clues and hints, that even someone who knows you well can misread the intent. Whilst direct communication of your wants, needs, and desires may ruin your fantasy, instead of the satisfying feeling of your partner just figuring it out, asking for a hug will help ensure you are both on the same page. For those few times when your other half guesses right, many disappointments, arguments, frustrations, hurt feelings, and even breakups could have been avoided. There are other ways to fulfill fantasies than silently waiting and building frustration.

When I work with couples therapeutically, communication is fundamental to the success of the work. To overcome the need for each other to mind read, we need to agree to stop trying to read the mind of others. To learn what it is the other person is trying to communicate, ask them questions until you are certain you understand what the other person is feeling or thinking, or what they are trying to communicate through their actions or behaviour.

We can stop people trying to read our minds by precisely describing what is going on inside of us, avoiding vague words, and by being as specific as possible about time frames, actions and expectations.  We can use common or shared experiences as examples of ways of making our mind clear to another person, but it is important to avoid blaming, labelling and digging up past, unresolved hurts.

In the end, if you want your other half to figure it out on their own, be prepared for disappointment, as it will rarely go your way. If you want something, or don’t want something, just say it.