not your partner's job to read your mind

It’s not your partner’s job to read your mind

You may not want to hear this, but it’s not your partner’s job to read your mind.  If you expect mind reading in your relationship you will be disappointed time and time again.  

Picture this scenario, Rob and Steve have been together for years.  By now, Rob feels that Steve should know when he’s crossed the line and hurt his feelings.  In fact, when the line has been crossed and Steve seems oblivious, it makes Rob even more angry and hurt.  This is a pattern that if left to continue will bring about frustration and pain time and time again.  

The fantasy of being known

It’s a basic human need to want to be seen and understood by our partner.  If your significant other has ever surprised you with a date night or brought home your favorite chocolates without prompting you can recall how magical that feels.  You are really being seen and understood and cared for.  

Mind reading

Unfortunately, when we expect that fantasy to happen over and over again with our partners, we wind up disappointed.  It is not our partner’s job to read our mind. It is their job to listen, respond and be open when we communicate our wants and needs.

Why do I expect mind reading?  

Parents often have to read the minds of their children, especially when they don’t yet have the words to be able to express what’s happening inside.  If you didn’t have that kind of experience as a child, where someone helped you make sense of your inner world and learn how to communicate your needs, it will be hard to do that as an adult.  It doesn’t mean your parents were terrible or you had a bad childhood, but somewhere along the line you didn’t have that experience. So you expect it from your partner.

My partner should just know

Think about Rob and Steve.  Rob feels that Steve should just know that he crossed the line.  However, Rob and Steve are different people. (Despite the fact that their names are both common and one syllable.) 

When we expect our partner to be the same as us, to know what we’re thinking and feeling, we are destined to be let down.  

I shouldn’t have to ask

Rob feels that he shouldn’t have to ask for Steve to notice his feelings.  Steve should just get it after all these years. But that’s an unfair expectation.  We’re constantly changing and evolving. We don’t even always know what we’re thinking and feeling in the moment.  How can we expect that from our partners?  

Start with you

If I was talking with Rob, the advice I’d give him is simple.  Start with his own feelings. If he can become very clear about what he wants and needs, it will be much easier for him to communicate that with Steve. 

If you think about your own relationship for a moment, when you’re wanting mind reading from your partner, what is really going on? Is there something you’re needing or wanting in that moment that is hard to express?   

Common mind reading phrases

There are a number of ways to begin spotting mind reading in your relationship.  Here are some common phrases that come up in couples therapy when someone is expecting their partner to do the magic or reading minds.  

  • My partner should just know this makes me angry.   
  • Why didn’t you remember that I hate corn on my pizza?  
  • How come you don’t know that I’m sad?

Mind reading and sex

There are certain topics that can be problematic for most couples to talk openly about.  Sex and finances usually top the list of topics that bring about anxiety or stress when they surface in relationships. 

Often times the topic of sex is ripe with mind reading traps. There are misconceptions that your partner should know what you like in bed.  Or they should be able to guess when you’re in the mood for sex. This is of course unfair and again, sets the stage for a disappointing scene down the line.  

What can I do about this?  

Therapy can be a useful way to learn more about what’s happening in your internal world and how to communicate that to others.  You can also focus on meditation or mindfulness, journaling, art or a number of other activities that bring you closer in contact with your internal world.  Couples counseling can be a useful way to learn how to express these things to your partner.  

“I” statements

“I” statements can be excellent tool to help avoid that trap of expecting your partner to read your mind.  Instead of saying, how come you didn’t know I was upset? You could simply say: “I’m upset right now and I want to talk about it.” 

When you talk about your own internal state and clearly communicate what you think, feel and need you will begin to change the tone and outcome of your conversations.  You will improve your communication.

Tom Bruett

Tom Bruett

Tom Bruett, LMFT is a licensed psychotherapist with an office in San Francisco, CA. Tom feels passionately about helping people have better relationships. The purpose of this blog is not to provide advice or to take the place of working with a mental health professional. For more information please visit the homepage.