“I want him to read my mind.”
Of course, she knew this was impossible, but she was being completely honest. That is what she wanted. Her husband’s eyes widened, recognizing he was just set up for failure in his marriage. This conversation happened ten years ago, before marriage counseling had even entered my mind as a career. A couple with whom I had grown very close was discussing an area of tension in their relationship. I was privileged enough to be a part of the conversation, and, since that time, I have been part of many similar conversations in my office.
She wished he would be more helpful around the house and more attentive to her needs. He was more than willing to help in any way he could, but was often unsure of what needed to be done. She resented his need for her to “spell out” everything for him, and admitted to her husband and me that she would appreciate it if he would anticipate her needs, and “read her mind” more often. At the time, the only reaction I had available was a hearty chuckle at her obviously ridiculous request. As time passed, and with many more conversations, I began to understand the heart of the request, but also confirmed the difficulty of it.
Consider the difference between a spouse who will comply to your requests and a spouse who understands you on such a deep level that he or she knows what you would want or need before you have to ask, or maybe even before you know yourself. The latter is far more romantic, right? We want a spouse we are sure cares, not just one that complies.
While the desire is completely understandable and worthy of pursuit, it certainly isn’t built-in to a marriage. Read this statement one more time: “a spouse who understands you on such a deep level that he or she knows what you would want or need before you have to ask, or maybe even before you know yourself.” We need to understand that this depth of knowing does not come easy, and it does not come fast. It takes time, and perhaps more importantly, it takes effort… on both sides.
He can learn about what goes on in her mind, but first, she needs to reveal it to him.
For my aforementioned friends, to make this work, she needs to be willing to be open and honest with her husband about her wants and needs. Although we can understand her desire for him to read her mind, we need to recognize that he truly can’t.
As she does, his effort needs to be placed in acknowledging, and learning her wants and needs. Paying attention. As he does, effort can then be put towards anticipating and meeting needs before they are discussed.
A few considerations regarding the above process:
- This is a process! Most true change happens over time. We want to look for progress, not perfection.
- We are all human beings, constantly growing and changing, meaning our wants and needs may change too. Therefore, while some areas can become more anticipatory, communication regarding these topics needs to remain open throughout a marriage. We never “arrive.”
- Encouraging your partner when they “get it right” tends to lead to repetition of behavior, while lack of acknowledgment or criticism can lead to discouragement or shut down.
These tips can be very helpful, but, of course, situations within relationships can become very complicated. Couples facing difficulty within communication such as this can often benefit from discussions with a trained therapist who can walk through the process with them. Be sure to find the appropriate help if needed.