Marital Mind Reading

 

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Sensing what others might be thinking or feeling is a good social skill. But believing we know for sure what another person thinks, feels, wants, or needs is dangerous.

Four examples of mind reading.

1) If your spouse is silent and you say, “You’re mad at me!” that’s mind reading.

2) If your spouse is late getting home and you say, “You’re cheating on me!” that’s mind reading.

3) If your partner forgets to buy milk and you say, “You did that on purpose!” that’s mind reading.

4) If your partner cleans the kitchen and you say, “You don’t think I’m capable of doing this myself!” that’s mind reading.

Two factors that fuel this bad habit.

1) anxiety.

2) depression.

Two ways to look at this phenomenon:

1) negative mind reading leads to anxiety and depression. Who wouldn’t be depressed if we thought our spouse had such negative feelings, motives, or thoughts?

2) anxiety and depression lead to negative mind reading. Looking at our partner’s through a negative lens colors everything negatively.

Two things make this habit highly vexing.

1) the tendency for the mind reader to conjure up negative motives, negative thoughts, or negative intent in their spouse.

2) the tendency for the mind reader to believe they are absolutely, 100% correct.

Two reasons counselors find breaking clients of this habit very difficult.

1) Nobody likes to be told their beliefs might be wrong. The mind reading client then reads the mind of the therapist, “He’s minimizing my fears,” “He just doesn’t get it.” “He’s a jerk.” “He doesn’t know my spouse as well as I do. I KNOW I’m right!!”

2) If the spouse is not guilty as charged this means the mind reader has issues to work on. It’s much easier to blame others for our unhappiness.

Two ways to get out of this dysfunctional pattern.

1) drive each other so crazy with false accusations, negative spins, and erroneous mind reading that one of you leaves. You can’t mind read if there’s no mind around to read.

2) Get so fed up with poor communication that one of you admits, “My interpretation might be wrong.”

Two ancient Proverbs on this topic.

1) “Do you see a person wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for them.”

2) “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.”

Four practical things a mind reader can do to break this habit.

1) Check the accuracy of your speculations, “I have a feeling you’re mad. Am I right?” If they say no, believe them.

2) Get in the habit of coming up with alternative explanations why your spouse does what they do. “He’s silent because he’s problem solving.” “She cleaned the kitchen because it was messy.” “He was late for dinner because of traffic.” “She forgot the milk because the kids were distracting.”

3) Look inside yourself and see if mind reading is a subconscious plot to provoke your spouse, reinforce negative self esteem, feed your anxiety monster, or conjure certainties in a world of uncertainty.

4) Look at the lens through which you look at life. If it’s negative, change it. If we can’t change our spouse we can change our view of our spouse.

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Marriage: A Shopper’s Guide

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SPRING CLEARANCE SALE on POTENTIAL MATES

Wise car shoppers kick tires and consult Consumer Reports, Kelly Blue Book, or Motor Trend Magazine before buying a used car.

Choosing a vacation spot is easier when we read reviews, ask friends, or talk to a travel consultant.

Wise business owners conduct extensive interviews because they know it’s easier hiring the right employee than retraining a wrong one.

Even going to the movies or choosing a restaurant is easier when we ask what others think of the plot, the service, or the value.

When it comes to getting married, however, some people don’t put a lot of thought into one of the biggest decisions of life. They feel the urge and take the plunge! Over the years I’ve heard many different reasons why people got married.

She is smokin’ hot!
He’s rich!
I wanted a big wedding because I was skinny and wanted to be ogled and envied.
I was drunk.
I didn’t want to be alone.
I wanted to get away from my parents.
She’s pregnant.
I was pregnant.
Why not? If I get unhappy I’ll get a divorce and find a new partner.
Our sex is amazing!
I was a single parent and this person was willing to help me raise my kids.
I didn’t want to get married but we already sent out the invitations.
They make me look and feel good.
They’ve promised to meet my every need.
I found someone who will give me what my parents never gave me.
I can control this person.
An imperfect mate is better than no mate.

If I were to write an instruction book for people “shopping” for a marriage partner, I’d suggest the following checklist. Some of these marriage criteria are counter intuitive but I believe courting couples ignore them to their peril.

How does this potential partner treat their parents? It’s not uncommon for old relational patterns to return once the glow of hormones wears off.

How long have you dated? We recommend at least a year so you can see what your future partner is like during every season. Summer lovers can become winter Grinches and vice versa. Better to find out sooner rather than later.

What are your prospective mate’s life goals? It’s hard to feel close if you’re headed in opposite directions.

What common values to you share? If you love risk taking and your partner is risk averse you’ll struggle. If you’re a saver and they’re a spender you’ll struggle. If you’re a dancer and your partner is an irredeemable klutz, somebody’s going to be unhappy.

How adept are the two of you at resolving disagreements? It isn’t conflict that tears marriages apart, it’s poorly managed or avoided conflict. I often give love struck couples in premarital counseling the following assignment, “Go have a fight.” It usually gets a big laugh but I’m serious. Why wait until the honeymoon to discover how well or poorly you handle stress, anger, and fear?

What are you and your partner’s expectations about marriage? This isn’t easy to answer when we’re infatuated, love struck, and just getting to know each other. But unmet expectations are one of the biggest conflicts couples have.

What did your criminal background check reveal? This is a painful reality: some people lie. Better to find out sooner rather than later the truth about military service, degrees, awards, debt, criminal records, affairs, previous marriages, or kids. I’ve been shocked to learn how sneaky some people can be. Check ‘em out!

What about your partner are you hoping to change? The person who thinks they’re going to help their partner eliminate their irritating mannerisms or character flaws, change their weight, hair style, religion, or personality is in for a huge disappointment. Making personal changes is hard enough. Feeling pressured to do so is almost guaranteed to fail.

How do you manage your anxiety? A person often chooses a mate because they believe their spouse will become their “anti anxiety drug.” Rather than dealing with fears, worries, and anxieties themselves, they make their future partner responsible for their moods. This puts tremendous pressure on a marriage. A future partner may be willing initially to be that anti-anxiety drug but will eventually poop out.

What do your family and friends think of this person as your potential life partner? If those close to you have doubts about how well suited you are for each other, pay attention. Those who are objective see what we in our love struck subjective state can’t.

How tolerant of differences are you both? Many people go bonkers when their partner voices a contrary opinion or expresses a preference that differs from their own. Two becoming one does not mean two becoming the same.

How willing are you both to work at making a healthy marriage? Even couples who agree on the above questions will go through marital stages. And each stage requires adaptation, compromise, and negotiation. Marriages put on “auto pilot” often end up in counselor’s offices because good marriage don’t just happen. They require attention, conversation, and new skills.

God puts us in marriages partly to make us better people. If we’re single we don’t have to learn how to get along in intimate relationships. But if we share a bed, budget, or kids either the marriage will work on us or we’ll work on the marriage. I hope these questions will help you kick a few tires before signing the marriage license.

When Optimists and Pessimists Marry

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“The glass is half empty AND half full!”

Some people are genetically endowed with an optimistic bias. Either by training or temperament they:

  • Walk around feeling lucky, blessed, cheerful.
  • Don’t need to be told they are lucky. They already feel it.
  • Look on the bright side of everything.
  • Are resilient when things go awry.
  • Dodge depression, illness, and anxiety.
  • Live longer, take better care of their health, adapt to hardship more readily than pessimists.
  • Take greater risks in business, invention, and investments.
  • Think failure happens to others, not them.
  • Inspire morale in employees, loan officers, family, and friends.
  • Are persistent in the face of obstacles.

But not all is rosy in optimistic land. Optimists also tend to:

  • View the world more benign than it actually is.
  • View their attributes more favorably than they actually are.
  • Think goals are more achievable than they actually are.
  • Exaggerate their ability to forecast the future and predict outcomes.
  • Think they are being prudent and cautious when they are not.
  • Gamble more than most.
  • Throw good money after bad.
  • Confuse optimism with delusions.

Some famous optimists: Pollyanna “Let’s play the glad game,” Winnie the Pooh, “Oh joy, oh rapture” and Baloo, “Accentuate the positive.” Some famous pessimists: Eeyore and Puddleglum.

When optimists marry optimists both are happy. When pessimists marry pessimists both are happy.

But in a mixed marriage the pessimist says to the optimist, “You’re so unrealistic!”

And the optimist says to the pessimist, “You’re such a downer!”

Solution? Mutual influence. Optimists do well to let the realism of the pessimist temper their over confidence, and pessimists do well to let the hope of the optimists temper their doom and gloom.

When optimists and pessimists work together they see a half empty glass as full and a full glass as half empty.

Paradoxes of Control

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It takes two people to unite in a marriage. If you succeed at controlling your partner (imposing your will on them) unity is lost. Why? Because your partner no longer has a free will and is no longer an independent person; they’ve become an extension of you and your will.

Controlling a partner is bitter sweet. We may get our partner to do what we want (which feels sweet) but they’re not doing it willingly (which feels bitter).

Fear of unmet needs is usually behind the urge to control our partners. The more we try to control our spouse the more disinclined they are to want to meet our needs. It’s a vicious self fulfilling prophecy.

Expecting others to do what we say fuels our sense of power and power is a terrible glue to hold couples together. Kindness, love, respect, deference, freedom, and serving are much better at fostering connection.

Few people welcome a partner’s control without trying to control back. This then creates a power struggle and the relationship becomes a competition to see who is most powerful. This leads to escalation and in worst cases, violence.

If the thought of letting your spouse do whatever they want increases your anxiety it’s likely you’re controlling. If your spouse does what you want and your anxiety decreases it’s likely you’re controlling. Since anything that decreases anxiety is addicting, controlling your spouse can become addicting. This is a precarious place to be since your spouse eventually will resist your control, your anxiety will spike, the urge to control will increase, their resistance will increase, and now anxiety regulation rules the relationship, not love.

Since much unhappiness occurs when spouses fail to meet our expectation to do what we want we have two options: try harder to get them to do things our way (spouse control), or change our expectations (self control). Since one of the “fruits of the spirit” is self control, we believe fostering personal spirituality and thereby decreasing the urge to control others is good for marriages.

If You Were A Coach For The Worry Olympics

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If You Were a Coach at the Worry Olympics

Most people trying to overcome the worry habit invest a ton of energy avoiding, fighting, and ignoring their worries. And those strategies work for many. But counselors know that some worries are so stubborn, so nettlesome, and so vexing that a different approach is needed.

Here’s a new way to overcome the worry habit: pretend you’re a worry coach and you’re getting your team ready for the Worry Olympics. How would you train calm and cheerful people to become first class worriers?

  1. List the Benefits of Worrying (motivate each team member to embrace the goal of worry)
  • Worry motivates me.
  • Worry helps me solve my problems.
  • Worry keeps me from being surprised.
  • Worrying is a great way to spend my time.
  • Worrying makes me a responsible and valuable human.

II.  List things to worry about (the longer the list the less your team will relax)

  • We’ll worry when bad things happen. This would give the team only a few things to worry about since the best worriers worry only about things that haven’t happened yet.
  • We’ll worry when bad things are about to happen. This would give the team even fewer things to worry about since we never know when something bad is going to happen.
  • We’ll worry about bad things we imagine might happen. Now you’ve given the team an infinite number of things to worry about.

III.  Find evidence for impending doom (turn the team’s molehills into mountains)

  • If I think it, it must be true.
  • My thoughts create reality.
  • My elevated heart rate proves my worrisome thoughts are accurate.
  • Statistics, studies, and odds in my favor are all bogus.
  • Things are not merely correlated, they’re causal! 

IV.  Eliminate distractions to worry (help your team stay focused)

  • Avoid faith, hope, love, and prayer
  • Avoid friends, hobbies, and work
  • Avoid family, romance, and sleep
  • Avoid everything that gets our minds off of worry

V.  Create worry-prone neural pathways in the brain (develop the team’s worry habit)

  • Remind the team of all the bad things that could happen.
  • Repeat this mantra over and over, “What if…what if…what if…?”
  • Imagine all worst case scenarios.
  • Tell yourself that if it’s possible it’s probable.
  • Reinforce worry by engaging in superstitious rituals (checking, washing, ruminating).

VI.  Remove all uncertainty from the team (demand 100% certainty about everything)

  • Obsess over “why?” questions.
  • Avoid reading books on probability, randomness, and the law of large numbers.
  • Make the team prove they’ll never get laid off, sick, broke, old, die, or rejected by others.
  • Treat everything like an emergency…solve all problems right now!
  • Reject anyone who reassures them things aren’t as bleak as they imagine.

VII.  Reinforce worries with Google (feed the team’s adrenaline addiction by finding sites run by…)

  • Conspiracy theorists
  • Fear mongers
  • Hand wringers
  • Snake oil salesmen
  • Pessimists

Do you want to get over the worry habit? Do the opposite of this list.

Does Anxiety Affect Your Marriage? Please Take This (Annonymous) Quick Poll

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Does anxiety affect your marriage? Let’s find out. Please jot on a piece of paper TRUE or FALSE to the following statements.

  1. When I express a fear my partner says, “Buck up,” “Quit worrying,” or “Be logical.”
  2. When I express my concerns my partner doesn’t “get” it.
  3. I go to my partner for soothing when I’m worried.
  4. Worry prevents me from participating in things my partner likes.
  5. When I’m panicky my partner isn’t here for me.
  6. Fear of unmet needs turns me into a controlling person.
  7. My anxiety makes my partner angry.
  8. My anxiety makes my partner nervous.
  9. When I’m upset my partner withdraws.
  10. My partner criticizes me for being irrational.
  11. My partner advises me, “Face your fears.”
  12. I criticize my partner for not being empathic enough.
  13. I resent my partner for his/her inability to understand me.
  14. My partner resents me for always expressing my concerns, fears, and worries.
  15. My partner is overprotective of me because of my anxiety.
  16. My partner takes on many responsibilities to protect me from things that trigger my anxiety.
  17. My partner doesn’t know half of the things I worry about because I bottle ’em up.
  18. I’m too dependent on my partner because of my fears.
  19. I am a burden to my partner because of my fears.
  20. I’ve thought, “If my partner really loved me they’d accommodate my anxieties.”

Count the number of TRUES and post below. Your participation is entirely anonymous (to me and everyone else).

Three Questions about Risk and Worry

“Read the part again where Chicken Little lets his insurance lapse.”

Leave it to the madcap monks of 1662 to come up with this bit of wisdom:

“Fear of harm ought to be proportional not merely to the gravity of the harm, but also to the probability of the event.”*

In modern language this means if something is highly dangerous but unlikely, don’t worry. If something is highly likely but not dangerous, don’t worry. If something is highly dangerous and highly likely, worry!

Here are my three questions.

1. What things are you worried about that are dangerous but unlikely? Meteor hitting Bellingham? Terrorist attack in Ferndale? Mt. Baker erupting and lava flowing down Meridian? These are unlikely, so relax.

2. What things are you worried about that are likely but not dangerous? Hat hair in public? A scary but harmless nightmare? Locking your keys in your car? These are no big deal, so relax.

3. Why worry about things that are highly dangerous and highly likely? Worrying won’t stop unpleasant things from happening. Instead of worrying, take precautions–buy auto, health, and home insurance, don’t eat so much bacon, floss, look both ways before you cross the street. And relax.

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*From the book LOGIC, 1662, published by the Port Royal Monastery, quoted in Against the Gods, Bernstein, p. 99.