I was eating breakfast with a group of girls at the Project Patch Youth Ranch and somehow we ended up talking about reading minds. The girls were sharing their theory that when people know each other for a long time, they get to a point that they can read each others thoughts, or at least anticipate what the other person is going to do.
I asked the girls, “Do you think, in the best marriages, that husbands and wives should be able to read each other’s minds?” The consensus was “yes”. They said that if you really love someone, you should expect them to be able to know what you are thinking, at least most of the time.
I think the girls are right, and wrong. In the best marriages, and friendships, too, you learn the preferences, body-language, triggers, and habits of the other person. It’s sweet, in a “Hallmark-movie” sort of way, when I observe older couples dining at their favorite restaurants. They seem to have a natural flow about how they sit and arrange the table. They hand each other the creamer and sugar when their coffee arrives. Even more impressive — they hand the salt and pepper shakers without being asked. Magic!
Yet, some of the worst relationships I’ve seen relied on mind-reading, rather than talking, as the best way to know what the other person was thinking. These couples would react with fireworks, because they interpreted the other’s body language, sigh, or blank stare incorrectly. It wasn’t that they didn’t know each other, like the sweet couple at the restaurant. It was that they expected the other person to know without words being used.
This is something many of us pick up as kids. My daughter had a “wound” on her finger, and was a bit “put off” when her well-meaning sister couldn’t see it; because, in fact, it was a very tiny paper-cut. Kids end up being pretty dramatic, with pouting, sighing, and generally using a lot of drama when the opportunity arises. I’ve seen kids fall and then do a quick assessment to determine whether they are going to cry or not. Sure, they are doing a quick body-scan for possible injuries, but, they are also looking around to see if they have an audience.
Some place, deep within us, we want people to know we are hurting, without us having to tell them. The reality is that the hurts that bother us the most really aren’t visible. However, how many times do we expect others to notice them and to draw them out?
There are really two types of expectations when it comes to mind reading. Neither one serves us well in relationships:
- Expecting that you know what someone else is thinking.
- Expecting that someone else knows what you are thinking.
Most of us guys would be happier if our wives didn’t carry the assumption that we knew what they were thinking. Yet, most of us guys rarely ask. We don’t ask because we are afraid of what will be unleashed, and also because many of us have a mentality that “out of sight, out of mind”, and, “if it aint’ broke, don’t fix it”.
I’ve struggled with this list of recommendations, because they seem a bit ridiculous when written down. But, I still think they are potentially helpful.
Try these steps with your spouse, child, or close friend; and see if it starts a good conversation, and maybe some healing.
- “I love you, but I can’t read your mind.”
- “I would like to help you if you are hurting, especially if I’ve hurt you.”
- “Will you tell me if you are hurting, so I can help you?”
- “I commit to letting you know if I’m hurting.”
Yes, this may be an awkward conversation. But, the good news is that it admits the obvious, and sets your relationship to be way ahead of those that rely on guessing, or playing “couples charades”.
It also models to your kids a significant truth; that they need to take ownership of what is going on emotionally, and that asking for help is a sign of strength, rather than weakness.
Question: How have you been able to go deeper into your relationships through opening up your thoughts and hurts? Comment Now