If you want to improve your relationship, one cardinal rule to follow is this: Don’t expect your partner to read your mind.
This seems obvious, right? But many people still operate this way, in an unconscious manner, almost daily.
Why is this a problem? Because most people fail at mind-reading — or fail to succeed, consistently — which leads to a lot of problems, such as:
How does failed “mind-reading” show up in relationships?
Expecting your partner — or your parent, child, or friend — to meet your needs without an open discussion can keep you personally unaware of your expectations and prevent important conversations about each other’s ideas, feelings, wants, needs, and priorities.
Listen for things like, “If you really loved me, you would know XYZ,” Or, “I shouldn’t have to tell you.”
There’s a better way to “mind-read” in relationships.
There are times when you’re unhappy, disappointed, angry, etc. Yet, you may not be fully aware of your feelings, not know why you have a feeling, or blame someone else for your feelings, automatically.
You might not be aware of what to do to even feel better.
This is when the Eastern tradition of mindfulness can be very powerful. There are many benefits to this practice, and I will highlight one.
Mindfulness in relationships is just like “mind-reading.”
This is because you start being more aware of what is actually in your own mind, from moment to moment.
When you pause and have a greater awareness of feelings, thoughts, and expectations, you start recognizing your reactivity, expectations, and what’s underneath your disappointment.
Over time, you become less helpless, less frustrated, and more empowered. With practice, you start seeing things you didn’t know were there. You can then ask for what you need.
For 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 you start noticing these things in all scenarios, you might next notice how you push away the efforts of a well-meaning partner!
How do you become mindful in your relationship?
Start by choosing a practice to try.
Join a mindfulness meditation group — this is a great way to learn from others in an ongoing way and get personal feedback.
You can also 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 and write whatever pops into your head. This is called “stream of consciousness writing.”
Another simple practice I like to teach is checking in with yourself four times a day. You choose and commit to four times a day where you pause briefly and intentionally notice any thoughts, feelings, body sensations, sights, sounds, tastes, and smells.
It’s 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 20 years of practicing, I’m much more mindful throughout my day and notice if my body is “off” or my thinking is blaming.
I can also notice when I need to offer up compassion for myself.
Whatever approach you choose, I encourage you to try it right 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’re 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 hometown 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.
Understanding 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 that 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!
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.
Life was safe and predictable with Mom. That was certainly another love language that I internalized.
Yet, when I travel, I want novelty and I want to explore some of the many Minneapolis restaurants!
Having my mindfulness practice is a win-win!
It enabled me to see these two opposite influences at a deeper level, understand 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.
So even after all these years of practicing mindfulness as mind reading, I continue to have new realizations and make personal connections that contribute to my healthy relating.
Mind reading is exciting! Give it a try and devote yourself to the practice.
Stacy Bremner is a Registered Psychotherapist in private practice in North Bay, Ontario and a Certified IMAGO Relationship Therapist, Advanced Clinician and certified workshop presenter. For more information, visit her website.
This article was originally published at Imago Relationships North America. Reprinted with permission from the author.