Marital Mind Reading



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.


What Was I Thinking?

"I've tried to manage my irrational thoughts but needed a hobby that wasn't so hard."

“I’ve tried to manage my irrational thoughts but needed a hobby that wasn’t so hard.”


I recently watched two movies about Hitler’s confiscation and destruction of the world’s great art, The Monuments Men and The Rape of Europa. My sadness, anger, and hatred for Nazis grew until I realized I was crying over paintings and not the horrendous evil of gas chambers. What was I thinking valuing paintings over people?


This reminded me of my childhood love of sci-fi movies and how I’d cheer when Godzilla leveled Tokyo but cried like a baby when Old Yeller died. What was I thinking valuing dogs over people?


This reminded me of other ways my mind plays tricks on me.


Last year I bought a tablet without batting an eye. I paid dearly for it. A short while later I donated some clutter to a local second hand store and received a coupon, “$3.00 off if you spend $10.00.” Sweet! I went inside and found $9.00 worth of stuff to buy but couldn’t find that last one dollar item to earn the $3.00 savings. I agonized over this, passing by two dollar items because I only needed a one dollar item. I must have spent a half an hour sweating over ways to spend one dollar in order to earn a $3.00 savings all the while forgetting I spent one hundred times that for the tablet. What was I thinking?


Hand me a revolver that holds a million bullets saying, “Spin the chamber and play Russian roulette,” and I’ll say, “Forget it! I might lose!” Hand me a lottery ticket with the odds of one in a million and I’ll say, “Thanks! I might win!” What am I thinking?


I often write in my journal, “I’ve got too much paper! I’ve got to get rid of this clutter!” and then file that stupid note with millions of other pieces of paper on which I’ve written, “I’ve got too much paper!” What am I thinking?


Decades ago I took a kid (not my own) fishing and we didn’t catch anything for hours. But just when that kid adjusted his baseball hat he caught a fish! He said, “I’m going to adjust my hat again and see if I get another one!” Wouldn’t you know it, he adjusted his hat and caught another fish. We spent the rest of the afternoon stupidly adjusting our hats convinced there was a relationship with hat adjusting and fish catching. This is how superstitions are born! What were we thinking?


It’s embarrassing to admit how many times on-line I’ve clicked, “I have read and agree to these Terms and Conditions” without reading a word of it. I sometimes leave the house with the radio and porch light on to create the deceptive illusion that I am home. For a guy who values the truth I sure lie a lot. What am I thinking?


I grouse when I pay extra for organic fruits and veggies, whine when I pay $5.00 for one measly teabag and a squirt of vanilla at a coffee shop, and complain when gas prices go up ten cents. These are all tangible products I use and enjoy. At the same time I shell out way more money for intangible products I don’t enjoy and will likely never use: car insurance, health insurance, life insurance, home insurance, professional liability insurance, cell phone insurance, and insurance on my office rental. Isn’t this called, “Straining at gnats and swallowing camels?” What am I thinking?


Against all evidence to the contrary, I entertain the fantasy that someday my collection of hand made paper round charts (volvelles), clipped New Yorker cartoons, and mixed metaphors will be worth money. The hope that springs eternal isn’t always rational. What am I thinking?


My consolation: at least I know I am irrational. It’d be really sad if my brain was on the blink and I didn’t know it.


How about you? What are you thinking?


When Optimists and Pessimists Marry

glass half full

“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.

Challenging Negative Thoughts When Things Go Bad

blackboardHere’s a handy truth to keep in mind the next time things don’t end well. The end of an experience does not define the beginning and middle of an experience.
If on day fourteen of a two week vacation we lose our luggage, it rains cats and dogs, and we run into grouchy people it doesn’t mean the whole vacation was crummy. And yet we’re prone to think the whole vacation was a disaster even if the first thirteen days were great. 
If we enjoy 40 minutes of musical bliss listening to a vinyl record but the last minute has a scratch on it, we tend to think, “The whole record was ruinied!” conveniently overlooking the first 39 minutes of pure enjoyment.
If a pregnancy goes well but the delivery is hard mommies tend to treat the whole pregnancy as an ordeal (so I hear).
If the last years of a long and fruitful life end in a depressing nursing home it doesn’t mean that person’s whole life was depressing. Yet we are prone to equate how a life ends with how it was lived in the beginning and middle.
If a 400 page novel engages, inspires, entertains, and delights but has a crummy ending we tend to forget the 399 pages of enjoyment.
If a long term marriage ends in a painful divorce people tend to think their whole marriage was bad, forgetting the fun times in the beginning and middle.
Our tendency to let a bad ending color the beginning and middle of a good experience seems unavoidable, doesn’t it? 
But try it out. See if you can catch yourself letting a bad end define the whole thing. 
  • Don’t let a bad dessert erase the memory of a great dinner.
  • Don’t let your teenager’s surliness erase the good memories of that first step, first word, first day of school.
  • Don’t let a repair bill when something breaks erase all the years that stove, car, tent, bike, computer, or lawnmower worked great.
It will be hard at first but by learning to resist letting an unpleasant end of an experience define the whole experience we’ll have happier memories, less discouragement, and greater control over a mind that’s prone to negativity. 

Retribution and Snoopy


I wish I had Snoopy’s courage to stick my tongue out at those who link suffering with sin. The tendency to attribute trials and tribulations to retribution is problematic on so many levels.

  1. Claims that suffering is divine punishment can’t be falsified and falsification is one of the ways we establish truth. The claim that all swans are white can be falsified by producing a black swan. The claim that water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit can be falsified by boiling water at a different temperature. There’s no way to falsify the claim that tornadoes hit lands with laws that displease God.
  2. Claims of retribution are inconsistent. “If a brothel burns down it’s holy justice; if a church burns down it’s divine mystery.” Huh?
  3. Claims that sin lurks behind disease is cruel. I’m no fan of blaming the victim.
  4. Claims that tragedies are acts of divine retribution for sin contradict the words of Jesus who said, “What about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? I tell you no!”
  5. Claims that sickness happens to those who do wrong is absurd when one considers the suffering of my saintly wife.
  6. Claims that benefits happen to those who do right is absurd when one considers Job, Ecclesiastes, and the writer of Psalm 73.

So, Ms. Lucy, I must agree with Snoopy on this one. Your kind deserve to be bleahed!

If You Were A Coach For The Worry Olympics

karenoia.models (2).a

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.

Nine Obstacles That Sabotage Bringing Ideas to Fruition

What's wrong with this picture?

What’s wrong with this picture?

If you’re like me you’ve got more ideas in your head than you know what to do with. Several years ago I adopted the David Allen system of capturing someday-maybes. I’m not sure this was a good plan. As a result of writing down every idea for a future book, play, game, article, sermon, cartoon, art project, slide show, power point presentation, caricature, volvelle, business idea, new model for conflict resolution, therapeutic, home, family, financial, and health project I’ve now got a list of over a thousand “someday maybes.” I’m not going to live long enough to finish 99.9% of them.

Perhaps you know the feeling: guilt for not reading that book screaming, “Read me!”, sadness for not writing that novel screaming, “Write me!,” and depression for not drawing that graphic novel screaming, “Draw me!” There’s the embarrassment of telling friends about grandiose projects that now languish. And then there’s the frustration of not having a disciplined enough mind to stick to a task until it’s complete.

Your list of creative someday-maybes may include building a computer, starting a business, landscaping the yard, learning a new hobby, taking or teaching a new class, launching a blog, opening a restaurant, making a film, selling homemade jewelry, or refinishing that old piece of furniture in your garage. What’s the deal with these creative brains? Why do we start a million projects and bring so few to completion? Why is cooking up ideas effortless but doing them so difficult? Why can’t we stick to a project?

I’ve read a dozen books about creativity over the years and have yet to discover the silver bullet that cures the distracted brain flitting like a moth from idea to idea. One of my someday-maybes is to write the great American mixed metaphor. Another of my someday-maybes is to cure Attention Deficit Disorder without pharmaceuticals. If not that, at least discover the trick to sustained focus. If not that, at least understand the causes and cures for boredom. I’ve got a long way to go but here’s a list of key suspects behind the proliferation of ideas and dearth of completions.

1. Drug addiction. Thinking up new ideas squirts the pleasure drug dopamine into our system. Doing the hard work of acting on that idea turns off the flow of dopamine. The thrill of invention is replaced by the grind of execution.

2. Fantasy. When new ideas show up we imagine it’s the best idea ever like those singers on American Idol who think they sing like Adele but sound like a duck.

3. Distractions. Hearing from the creative muse is a thrill but she eventually gets hoarse and another one quickly comes along with a louder voice and she woos us into her seductive clutches. Too many voices!

4. Waning value. This is the most puzzling aspect of boredom. How can an idea that initially gives us goosebumps, energy-enriched insomnia, and adrenaline-charged bliss lose its charm? It can’t be that the idea changes; it must be us.

5. Waning sustainability. Maybe it’s not the nail that loses it’s attraction to a magnet, maybe its the magnet that loses its magnetism. Maybe it’s not our idea that loses its luster, maybe the problem is our inability to stay enamored with luster. What can we do to protect our brains from creative delight fatigue? I don’t know yet.

6. Self doubt. One minute we imagine giving our Nobel Prize acceptance speech and the next minute we imagine being parodied as fools on Youtube.

7. Inferior quality. Woody Guthrie once said, “I wrote a thousand folk songs hoping at least one of ’em would be good.” He ended up writing Roll On Columbia, Washington State’s official song. In 60 years I’ve left a trail of a thousand poems, businesses, guitar ditties, books, drawings, handouts, skits, caricatures, data wheels, and cartoons not one of which has become Washington State’s official anything.

8. Skill deficit. The idea generating part of our brains must be huge and the idea execution, staying motivated, and bringing ideas to completion part is microscopic.

9. Competing priorities. Illness, home repairs, bills, jobs, weddings, holidays, and birthdays prevent us from staying engaged, from maintaining interest, and sustaining concentrated focus.

If anything those books on creativity have taught me, creative brains that come up with ideas but don’t complete ideas are not alone. Why else would we read, “Great ideas need landing gear as well as wings,” “Better the end of a project than it’s beginning” and “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” If you’re like me with too many ideas and too little time to finish em all, I feel ya!

Now, back to that Great American mixed metaphor………..

When Feelings Mislead


Everyone knows their eyes play tricks on them. That’s what makes optical illusions so fun. Our other senses get fooled, too. The earth spins at about 1000 mph but we don’t feel it. The sun neither rises or sets but it sure looks like it. The car next to us slowly moving forward in the parking lot makes it feel like we’re moving backwards.

If our physical senses are so easily misled, why are we so confident about our feelings? For many, if they feel it they think it must be true.

Not so.

Just because something feels true doesn’t make it true

  • Feeling ugly doesn’t mean we are ugly.
  • Feeling worthless doesn’t mean we are worthless.
  • Feeling in danger doesn’t mean we are in danger.
  • Feeling compassionate doesn’t mean we are being compassionate.
  • Feeling controlled doesn’t mean we’re being controlled.
  • Feeling at risk doesn’t mean we are at risk.

Just because something feels untrue doesn’t make it untrue

  • Not feeling controlling doesn’t mean we aren’t controlling.
  • Not feeling needy doesn’t mean we aren’t being needy.
  • Not feeling irritating doesn’t mean we’re not being irritating.
  • Not feeling like we need continual reassurance doesn’t mean we don’t need continual reassurance.
  • Not feeling critical doesn’t mean we aren’t critical.
  • Not feeling loved doesn’t mean we’re not loved.

My point? I want to remind myself to have a healthy skepticism about things. Being confident is not the same as being right. It’s possible to feel certain and yet be certainly wrong.

The “You do it, too!” Defense

If you’re ever accused of doing something inappropriate, irritating, or wrong, I do not recommend using the “You do it, too!” defense. Here’s what it sounds like in some of its various permutations.

“You’re being rude!” “Well, you’re rude to me!”

“You’re so negative.” “Like you aren’t?”

“You misunderstand me.” “And you misunderstand me!”

“You’re so angry.”  “Don’t deny it; you get angry, too!”

“You’re spoiling the kids.”  “So do you!”

“You drink too much.”   “And last New Year’s Eve you didn’t?!”

“You push my buttons.”  “Because you push mine.”

“All you do is argue!”   “You started it.”

If these exchanges seem rare and far-fetched consider yourself fortunate. On the other hand, if they hit close to home, read on.

I watch conflicted people fight with the same attention an umpire watches pitches in baseball. If the folly of the “You do it, too!” approach isn’t apparent, allow me to clarify. This approach is ill-advised for the following reasons.

  1. Two wrongs don’t make a right.
  2. It leads to impasse, log jam, and stalled negotiations.
  3. It triggers defensiveness in your disputant.
  4. It’s a childish way to rationalize, justify, and excuse childish behavior.
  5. It’s irresponsible; if we don’t acknowledge our contribution to a conflict things will never get better.

What’s the alternative? The next time you’re on the receiving end of a “You” accusation replace defensiveness with curiosity. Some common phrases that help deescalate conflict.

“I do?”


“My bad!”

“I didn’t know that.”

“I wasn’t aware of that.”

“I’ll look at my contribution. Will you look at yours?”

“What is it like to live (work, commute, eat) with me?”

“There might be a grain of truth to this. Lemme think about it.”

“I don’t see me that way but I’ll try to look at me from your point of view.”

If your disputant is used to hearing you use the “You do it, too!” defense, they’ll be pleasantly shocked if you try the curious approach. I highly recommend it.