How Mind-Reading Expectations are Ruining Your Relationship
The scene is not uncommon: You think you asked your significant other to load the dishwasher while you were out. In fact, you thought you agreed upon a complete to-do list since you’re working all day today and she’ll be home. But you didn’t. In fact, this isn’t the first time you thought you communicated to her what you wanted, but you didn’t. So when you get home, the sink is still full of dirty dishes, the laundry isn’t done, the dog desperately needs a bath, and you just worked a 45+ hour work week. You. Are. Livid.
Or maybe the scenario is more like this: You totally thought your partner understood how important this company party was to you. It’s a chance for you to introduce the most important person in your life to your boss and co-workers, hopefully creating more of a social connection between you and your co-workers. Besides, everyone’s significant other will be present. However, two days before the event, you remind him that his best dress shirts are at the dry-cleaners and he replies, “Why would I need a dress shirt? I’m going to the football game on Saturday with the guys.” Cue disappointed tears.
Based on the previous examples, what is it the underlying cause of the frustration/hurt?
- My partner didn’t anticipate my needs, which must mean that my partner doesn’t love me.
- My partner doesn’t respect me enough to help me, so my partner doesn’t love me.
Society, through TV sitcoms, romantic comedies, social media, and yes, Disney movies, have ingrained us from a young age with notions of “how relationships should work.” So many of us have bought into the lie that our partners are supposed to “get us if they love us”; that if your significant other really loves you, they should “know you by now” and just inherently know what you need/want. The problem is, unless you and your partner are super-/meta-humans with the gift of telepathy, an uncanny similarity to each other, or sleuth-like observational skills, your partner, at best, can only guess what you need or want. Sure, they’ll get it right some of the time. But why leave such an important part of your relationship to chance?
Whether it’s as simple as wanting a back massage, needing help with the kids, attending social obligations, receiving more attention in the bedroom, or craving gestures of affection, we CANNOT expect our significant others to read our minds. When we do, (“oh, I just wish he bought me flowers once in a while!” or “I wish she would take an interest in bungee-jumping”), we are creating an alternate reality in which our partners can never fit, while dangerously exalting that fantasy above our loved ones. We are setting them up to unknowingly disappoint us while simultaneously positioning ourselves to engender resentment, bitterness, and a cycle of critique and criticism. Eww…
So great, I’m already stuck in this cycle…what can I do? Start by COMMUNICATING your needs to your partner. I know it sounds oversimplified and cliche, but it cannot be overstated. Will it be awkward to tell your partner what you need from him/her? Maybe. Does it take practice (and mountains of tack)? Every single day. Could it save your relationship? Now that’s a possibility that’s based in reality!
Courtney is a Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern at The Holistic Mental Health Clinic in St. Petersburg, FL and lives with her not-so-telepathic husband. If you would like to learn how to better communicate your needs to your partner, or learn how to enjoy a more satisfying, fulfilling relationship, you can contact Courtney at 727-520-9447 or by email.