Switchbacks: Mind reading for couples

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August 7, 2022

My wife: Do you know what I would love?

Me: Yes! You would love to go camping!

Wife: Yes! And then we could…

Me: Build a nice fire and roast marshmallows.

Wife: Yes! But…

Me: Not smores; they’re too messy and not your favorite.

Wife: YES!

Yep, I’m a mind reader. Well, no, not really, but sometimes. 

Most couples finish each other’s sentences from time to time. Since we have been together for over three decades, it has happened often. So yea, I get it right sometimes, but it wasn’t always this way.

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In the beginning, we could barely read each other’s sentences, much less our minds. We expected each other to know our thoughts. I know it sounds silly – at least it does now. But that is how we began and how I suspect it is how most relationships begin. We all start with unrealistic expectations.

We would often argue over things that were never actually communicated. Then we would argue about – what I refer to as – “not the problem.” We fought about “not the problem” all the time, almost exclusively. Looking back, it was rare that we could even identify the actual problem. 

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to resolve a relational problem when you are unsure of what the problem is? I bet you do.

As a solution, I offer you Mindreading with Ryan. 35 easy payments of… 

I’m kidding. No one gets off that easy. 

Besides, think of how much trouble you could get into over the things you think. I’m sure that what you say generates enough stress.

Still, familiarity is a healthy part of a good relationship. That is what correctly finishes the sentences of our friends, lovers, and spouses. How do we become familiar with each other? How do we come to know someone deeply?

John Gottman wrote this in his book Eight Dates: A Plan for Making Love Last Forever

Successful long-term relationships are created through small words, small gestures, and small acts.” 

So, it seems safe to conclude that realistic mind-reading is a skill developed a little at a time.

I propose three simple behaviors to improve your mind-reading skill set.

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Spend Lots Of Time Together

People don’t grow apart. They are growing and are too often apart. 

We never stop growing, evolving, experimenting, and discovering. It is the human experience. The challenge is overlapping orbits. You do you. You work your job. Enjoy your recreations and entertainment. All the while, you process it all within the confines of your own rather small universe. Yes, a host of people walk in and out of that little cosmos. Often they leave a trace or nudge you in a new direction. But that doesn’t mean the person you picked in this life knows your inner world.

It’s important to note that vicinity and presence are not the same things. If you don’t spend intentional time with each other, you will lose each other. I am talking about being present and staying up to date with each other.

Talk About Things That Matter

If you are to keep up to date on each other’s likes, dislikes, and desires, you cannot just talk about nothing. It is too easy to talk about nothing. Relationships do not need more fluff. They need stuff. You need to hear each other’s stories. The pain, defeats, victories, and triumphs must reverberate in your relationship. They must be heard and shared in all the raw emotions that they originally invoked.

To learn someone, we must learn their story. We must hear and feel their uniquely beautiful and tragic life.

Listen To Understand

I once heard a twist on Henry Ford’s famous quote that said, “If two people always agree, one of them is unnecessary.” I’ve never seen a close relationship with the problem of too much agreement. But, I have often seen relationships struggle. Often it is because one partner either could not or would not express their disagreement. 

The answer to the many disagreements in your life is not necessarily a resolution. It is understanding. I need to hear and understand my partner’s inner world. And, if I could only postpone my defense long enough,  a better answer might present itself.

No couple desires to merely coexist. We long to live and love passionately. If only we were able to know and be known. I believe then the happiness that often eludes us would come within our grasp.

Upward!

Ryan

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