Why does communication work beautifully at times yet fail miserably at others? We don’t recognize how much our inner world colors our behavior in relationships. We see conflicts at the surface level, for instance, having opposing ideas on spending money or how much time to spend apart from our mate. Most people don’t know the deeper issues that complicate their communication.
Two significant stumbling blocks that thwart communication are mindreading and assumptions. Mind-reading and assumptions are dependent on each other. First, you mind-read, and then you make assumptions.
Let’s talk about mind-reading – not in terms of having telepathic powers – instead in terms of thinking we know what our partner wants, thinks, or feels. The problem with mindreading is that, in essence, you check out of what’s happening in real-time and instead try to figure out what it means. When you mindread, you typically think the worst is happening or going to happen.
Mind-Reading in Play
Let’s take a look at what happened to Melody and Mark’s potential relationship when mindreading got in the way. Melody and Mark have met for brunch at a local restaurant. This is their second date, and both of them feel hopeful about the relationship. Melody notices that Mark is quiet, and she feels uneasy. She asks him if everything is okay, and he responds, “Yes, everything’s fine.”
Actually, Mark is exhausted from trying to meet a deadline at work. He didn’t want to cancel their date at the last minute, but he doesn’t feel like his usual upbeat self. He’s trying to manage Melody’s impression of him and doesn’t want her to think he’s a complainer, so saying, “Everything’s fine,” is easier for him. However, Melody doesn’t believe that “Everything’s fine.” She doesn’t want to seem pushy, so she drops the conversation. She jumps to the conclusion that Mark isn’t interested in her, and she begins silently talking herself out of the relationship. Melody doesn’t show much interest in following up with Mark as they say their goodbyes because she interprets his behavior as a passive form of rejection.
Mark concludes that Melody is bored with him. He convinces himself not to follow up with her. They both retreat to the safety of singleness rather than deal with the complexities involved in relationships. Little do they know that they have relied on mind-reading rather than facts to determine the course of their relationship.
How to Stop Mind-Reading
Mindreading is a habit we all engage in. The most effective way to curb it is to know when you’re doing it. Questions to ask yourself so you can become more aware of when you’re mindreading:
- What’s actually happening and what am I manufacturing about the situation?
- Am I hoping that my partner can read between the lines of my email, text, or words?
- How do I know this for sure?
- What are the facts, not my interpretation of the facts?
Assumptions are closely connected to mindreading. Our brain is constantly solving problems. When something surprising or confusing happens, we unconsciously make assumptions to determine how to respond. Our brain looks for patterns between our current situation and a past situation – typically from a traumatic childhood situation etched in our memory – to determine our response. In doing so, we’ll recreate the same emotions that we felt from the past situation. That’s why we feel angry, sad, frustrated, or out of control.
How Little Things Turn Into Big Things
Here’s an example of how little things turn into big things. Thomas and Alisha have been married for five years. They get along well even though they have a few unresolved issues. Alisha told Thomas that she needs to attend an important business meeting at 3:30 later that week, so he’ll need to be home to take care of the kids. Thomas agreed. This seems to be a routine exchange of information but look what happens.
The next day, Thomas asks Alisha again about the time of her meeting, and Alisha politely tells him. Alisha reasons that Thomas’s forgetfulness isn’t a big deal – everyone forgets. Then, later that day, incredulously, Thomas asks Alisha a third time, apologizing for forgetting. Alisha disregards his apology and instead loses her patience, unconsciously making these assumptions – “He’s not listening to me because he should have remembered the time, and this means I’m not important to him, and I don’t matter.”
In a nanosecond, Alisha’s brain connects the pattern of this situation with a childhood memory. She remembers that her parents were very busy and she didn’t feel heard. She frequently had to repeat herself about important things in her life. One time, her mother forgot to pick her up from school, and she was terrified that no one would come to get her. She came to believe that she wasn’t important. And now she feels the pain and anger she felt as a neglected child.
Alisha yells angrily, “What is wrong with you? I’ve already told you a million times!” The anger in her voice brings up a memory Thomas has about his mother. His mother often scolded him with the words Alisha just said – “What is wrong with you?” Thomas formed the belief that he was broken. Now, unconsciously, Thomas’ emotional wounding from childhood is set in motion and he just wants to find somewhere to hide, like he did when he was a child.
Thomas and Alisha find themselves in a tense argument that began with the innocuous question, “What time is your appointment?” Both of them are reacting from emotional wounds from the past, in essence, becoming two angry children. The argument continues until Alisha calls for a time-out so both of them can regain their composure.
How to Stop Making Assumptions
To stop acting from an assumption, it’s essential to see what’s going on inside yourself, psychologically. Here’s what you can do to prevent small things from becoming big things.
- Pause when you’re agitated. Take a time out so that you can remember that there’s an underlying reason for your heightened reactions.
- Remember that when your emotions outweigh the reality of a situation, you have a deeper issue in play.
- Become more aware of your unhealed emotional wounds through a mindfulness or spiritual practice or by seeking professional help.
- When your partner becomes unglued, strive to be calm and understand that they are acting due to an emotional wound. Try not to take their reaction personally.
Meaningful connection is what life’s all about, and when we get it right, it’s a game-changer. You can always change how you communicate with your partner by becoming aware of the deeper issues influencing your actions.
Hello, I am Elizabeth Golembiewski, a dating and relationship coach. I am helping singles, couples, and families relationships change behavior patterns such as mindreading and making assumptions that lead to conflict. I offer safe and confidential coaching sessions designed to comfort and inspire you. You can get in touch with me at (512) 922-4822 or buildlovingrelationships.com or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.