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The Perils of Reading Your Partner’s Mind

3 minute read

You don’t believe in mind reading, do you? No one can see what you’re really thinking or know what motivates you deep down. Of course not!

And yet, if you’re in a romantic relationship, you probably read your partner’s mind all the time. You’ve seen their behavior, heard their tone of voice, listened to what they said, and deduced their intentions. If what they’ve said or done upsets you, you’ve come to conclusions about their intentions which were probably fairly unpleasant. And since you’re busy reading your partner’s mind, you can be pretty sure that when you upset them, they’re busy reading your mind, and probably ascribing negative intentions to you.

Mind reading is one of the ways in which communication breaks down in a couple. Our partner does something that makes us feel bad, and we immediately search for the intention behind that behavior. Our fear and sadness then causes us to latch onto the worst possible answer. We become convinced that our answer is right and behave accordingly, which usually means we become angry and hurt and either start a fight or withdraw.

Here are four examples of mind reading — along with possible alternative realities:

Our partner once again arrives late to meet us

Mind reading: “He doesn’t care that I’m kept waiting, he doesn’t care that I’ve asked him not to be late, and he isn't thinking about how I feel.”

Alternative Reality: “I care a lot about the cleanliness of the house, and I often criticize him for not meeting my standards. He hates fighting so he won’t confront me directly. But inside, he’s getting angry, and doesn’t even know it. Being late is his way of unconsciously getting back at me for criticizing him.”

Our partner spends time talking to an attractive man at a party

Mind reading: “She’s flirting, again. And doing it in front of me to make me jealous.”

Alternative Reality: “I’ve been so busy at work that I’ve been too exhausted to have sex. She’s feeling rejected and worried that she’s no longer attractive to me. Talking to another man makes her feel better about herself.”

Our partner doesn’t lift a finger to help with the kids

Mind reading: “He’s lazy. He’s taking advantage of me because he knows I’ll do everything.”

Alternative Reality: “I’m so good with the kids, and they are so close to me that he feels like an outsider in the family, and a not very competent outsider either. Helping with the kids makes him feel anxious, worried that he’ll do something wrong, or that I’ll criticize him, so he makes himself scarce when the kids need something.”

We share our problems with our partner and she tells us to stop complaining

Mind reading: “She doesn’t understand me, and doesn’t really care that I’m feeling bad.”

Alternative Reality: “Seeing me feeling down is very scary for her. She feels a responsibility to make me feel better, and that worries her since she doesn’t know how to do that. Asking me to stop complaining is her way of making herself less anxious.”

In each of these cases we think the worst: our partner doesn’t think about how we feel, or is trying deliberately to make us jealous, or is lazy, or simply doesn’t understand or care about us anymore. It’s only natural that we want to tell our partner how awful they are for feeling and behaving the way they do. Sometimes we do that with a direct attack, while other times we exact revenge in more subtle ways. Perhaps we become cold and withdrawn, or critical, or flirt with someone else to ‘even the score’.

To our partner, however, our behavior seems unprovoked. They’re unaware of our inaccurate reading of their mind — to them, it seems like we’ve started behaving badly for no reason. So they, in turn, move into mind reading mode. And they make the same mistakes we just made, ascribing our behavior to our bad intentions or personality flaws.

I could end this article with a lecture on how You Should Stop Mind Reading Your Partner. And you might try for a day or two, but pretty soon, you’d likely fall back into the old pattern. What’s needed is an alternative, some other way of finding out what’s going on inside the head of your partner. You need a method of communicating with your partner about what’s going on inside of you, and what’s going on inside of them. But that will have to wait for my next article.


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