Marital Mind Reading

 

frames

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.

Marriage: A Shopper’s Guide

009

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.

The Parable of the Stingy Scuba Diver

In our ongoing quest to demystify how to achieve marital happiness we offer another one page cartoon. Before a partner drowns because of unmet needs we hope this analogy will nudge people into action. Share the oxygen!

scuba.4

Annoyances in Marriage, Pt. 3 (and a free book!)

Managing Marital Irritations.cover

Glynn Wolfe might win the prize for history’s most irritable husband. According to his daughter in law, Vikki Wolfe, Glynn left his wife because she ate sunflower seeds in bed. But wait, there’s more. Wolfe divorced another wife for using his toothbrush. But wait, there’s still more. Wolfe is famous for being a wife collector. All counted, he married and divorced a total of 29 wives. Click here for his bizarre story. I’m not sure who needed counseling more, him or his 29 wives!

If you’ve asked your partner to quit eating sunflower seeds in bed or using your toothbrush and they refuse you can do like Wolfe did and file for divorce.

Or, you can become more tolerant of your partner’s irritating mannerisms. If you can’t change your partner, change yourself. Here are some tips.

1. List the things your partner does that irritate you.

2. Ask them to list the things you do that irritate them.

3. Compare lists and negotiate. “I’ll put down the toilet seat if you stay within our budget.”

4. Don’t give your partner negative labels. If you’re convinced your partner is a “self absorbed, cheating, immature, lying, slob” you’ll look for evidence to back up the label…and of course you’ll find it.

5. Re-examine the stories you tell yourself about your partner’s bad habits. Our interpretations play a bigger role in our frustrations than our partner’s behaviors. “As a man or woman thinks, so are they.” Here are some common stories that deserve challenging.

  • “My partner irritates me on purpose.” This might not be true. They could be mindless, automatic behaviors. Don’t you ever do things without thinking? Give grace and the benefit of the doubt.
  • “I take this personally!” If we treat their actions as a sign they don’t care about us, isn’t prioritizing us, or doesn’t love us, we’ve turned a benign action (like how to load a dishwasher) into a moral issue.
  • “If you really loved me you’d stop driving me crazy with all your irritating habits.” To which your partner could answer, “If you really loved me you’d let me do what I do without nagging.”
  • “They should know what I like. I don’t need to tell them.” Maybe it never occurred to your partner that it bothers you. They aren’t mind readers.
  • “My partner is one big irritation.” Is that their only redeeming trait? Won’t you miss that irritating habit once they’re gone? If the marriage is that dysfunctional there are bigger problems than crumbs on the counter or leaving wet towels on the floor.
  • “They don’t respect me.” Maybe they do respect you but just don’t have the same passion for when dishes get washed, bills get paid, or floors get vacuumed. They could just as easily say you don’t respect their way of doing things.
  • “If they don’t load the dishwasher right I’ll leave!” That’s why divorce attorneys call marriage a three ring circus–engagement ring, wedding ring, and suffering.
  • “Reasoning hasn’t worked. Time to explode!” Two wrongs don’t make a right.
  • “I’ll fight fire with fire! If they don’t take out the trash, I won’t talk!” Welcome to the walled off marriage. Hard to be close to someone you punish with silence.
  • “Any request my partner makes is an attempt to control me.” Really? Where did you learn that? From a demanding parent, grandparent, or ex?
  • “Differences are not allowed in this relationship!” Um, oneness does not mean sameness.

Click here Managing Marital Irritations.1 for a free book, Managing Marital Irritations. (This book contains Bible references).

Annoyances in Marriage, Part 2

annoying-203x300 Two brave souls, Joe Palca and Flora Lichtman, did a scientific study of things that are annoying. They published their results in a book aptly titled, Annoying. They say a thing is annoying when it’s unpleasant, repetitious, and we don’t know when it’ll end. Think of hearing half a phone conversation, something they call halfalog (as opposed to dialog or monologue). It’s unpleasant because we don’t know what the other caller is saying, it’s repetitious because we hear a voice then silence then a voice then silence over and over, and every second the conversation continues past our tolerance level the more our agitation grows. The same goes for pesky mosquitoes, nails scraped on a black board, texting at the dinner table, snapping gum, knuckle cracking, pop-up ads, and someone clipping their nails in public. I read this book with fascination since I love doing two things: helping individuals deal with their partner’s annoying habits in healthy ways, and helping individuals eliminate their own annoying habits. With wit and humor the authors describe why spouses have a low tolerance for each other’s annoying behaviors but a high tolerance for the annoying behaviors of others–we can get away from others but we’re stuck with our spouses! Also, in public we know life is hard but at home we expect a comfortable environment with agreeable people! How do we protect ourselves from disillusionment and the annoyances we called in our last blog post, surprising reversals?

  1. Remember every good trait has its inherent down side; there can be too much of a good thing. Life wouldn’t be so difficult if we didn’t expect it to be so easy.
  2. Remember that a growing irritation might reflect our diminishing tolerance level more then our partner’s increasing irritations. Are they more irritating or are we more irritable?
  3. If our partner’s irritating mannerism occurs only occasionally, try to ignore it.
  4. Be mindful of our own irritating mannerisms and be willing to reduce their frequency. Reciprocating irritations escalate in a negative feedback loop. Decreasing irritations by one party can trigger decreasing irritations in the other.
  5. Seek equity. Make sure there is fairness in the amount of love each gives and gets in the relationship. If you get more love and your partner gets less, they’ll be unhappy and easily irritated. Solution? Increase your deposits into their emotional love bank (be kind, generous, thoughtful) and decrease your withdrawals from their love bank (reduce the frequency of your irritating mannerisms). The old saying, “Love covers a multitude of sins” has merit. A full love bank can stand a few withdrawals. An empty love bank can’t handle overdrafts.
  6. If you get less love in the relationship and your partner gets more, you’ll be unhappy and easily irritated. Solution? Ask them to give more. If after several sincere and calm requests that doesn’t work, you’ve got some hard choices to make–separate bedrooms, separate vacations, separate lives?
  7. Accept your partner, irritations and all. Wanting a perfect spouse is like wanting see-saws that only to go up.
  8. Become boring. Some passive-aggressive spouses love to push buttons because they want revenge, drama, or entertainment. If you don’t want your partner to get your goat don’t let ’em know where it’s tied up. Wear an invisible Teflon coating. Become a duck and let the irritations roll right off. Be as impervious to their annoyances as a wind up alarm clock is in an electrical storm.

Next blog post: more tips and insights for Managing Marital Irritations (plus a free book).

When Cute Mannerisms Become Irritations

"I used to love it when you'd try to help me. Now it's just annoying."

“I used to love it when you’d try to fix me. Now it’s just annoying.”

It happens in every marriage. That cute mannerism you used to find so endearing while dating now drives you up the wall. That thing your partner did which was once attractive is now aggravating. A young couple gaga in love wholly embraces each other’s quirky habits, but fast forward a bunch of years and those quirky habits now drive each other bat guano crazy. Here are some examples I’ve collected over the years.

I used to love her helping heart. Now she’s off saving the world and I gotta cook dinner.

I used to love his pensive seriousness. Now I wish he’d open up and be more talkative.

I used to love his giving spirit. Now I wish he’d give to me and the kids and not all the neighbors.

I used to love her career accomplishments. Now I wish she had more time for family.

I used to love his relationship with his mother. Now I wish he’d stop calling her 4 times a day.

I used to love her laid back attitude. Now I’m annoyed she’s late for everything.

I used to love her spontaneity. Now I think she’s ADD.

I used to love his black and white thinking. Now I wish he wasn’t so stubborn.

I used to love her innocence. Now I wish she wasn’t so gullible.

I used to love his cool demeanor. Now he won’t talk to me.

I used to love his hard working attitude. Now he’s a workaholic and I never see him.

I used to love my wife’s body. Now all she does is work out.

I used to love his humor. Now he sounds like an immature dork.

I used to love her jokes. Now she never takes anything seriously.

I used to love his attention. Now I feel controlled.

I used to love it that he listened to me. Now he gets irked if I talk to anyone else.

I used to love her compliance. Now she seems like a doormat.

I used to love him letting me decide things. Now he makes me decide everything.

I used to love her as the life of the party. Now she never shuts up.

I used to love his risk taking. Now he seems utterly irresponsible.

I used to love it that she’s smokin’ hot. Now I’m angry guys stare at her.

These annoyances are tolerable in small doses. In large doses we get annoyed! Why do we get turned off by the very thing that attracted us to our mates in the first place? Because disillusionment sets in. What initially brought a big pay off of joy, entertainment, and warm fuzzies, eventually fails to deliver. We get acclimated, we get numb, we take our partners for granted. Like a drug addict who needs bigger and bigger hits, couples, if they’re not careful, need bigger and bigger relational pay offs.

Next blog: what to do about marital irritations.

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.

Thesaurus Therapy: Confuse These Words At Your Own Risk

Collegiate_ThesaurusHere’s a list of important words with very different meanings. We fail to grasp these distinctions to our peril. 

Cause vs. Contribution. A partner or family member may contribute to our irritation, anger, frustration, or unhappiness, but they do not cause it. There’s a fine line between what others do and how it affects us.  It’s what goes on inside our minds, not what goes on “out there,” that determines how annoying or troublesome another’s behavior feels. This is good news because we can control our inner world more easily than controlling others. Application: replace the comment, “You make me so mad,” with, “The story I tell myself about what you did makes me so mad.”

Criticism vs. Complaint. As a family conflict mediator I encourage complaining. It’s a healthy way to make our wishes known, initiate helpful dialog, and foster positive change. But there’s a world of difference between saying, “I feel bugged when you leave your dirty socks on the floor,” and “You are a slob and a sorry excuse for a human being.” One is a complaint, the other is a criticism. Application: resist the temptation to attack your partner; attack the problem instead.

Reacting vs. Responding. If you throw a rock into a pond you’ll see waves. That’s a response. If you throw a rock into a pond and see see a tsunami, that’s a reaction. Too often we react like a tsunami when a family member bugs us. Those reactions are impulsive, thoughtless, and explosive.  A response involves taking a deep breath, becoming curious about what the other person is thinking, and giving a soft reply. Application: be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.

Oneness vs. Sameness. When “two become one” it doesn’t mean “two become the same.” Expecting our partners to think, act, talk, eat, and relax just like us is to overlook the fact that we are one (shared bed, kids, budget, goals) but not the same (emotionally enmeshed, codependent, and blurred boundaries). Marriage is not the melting of a blue and yellow crayon into a green blob. We are still blue and yellow. Application:  give your partner and yourself permission to be different.  See The Green Marriage

Assertiveness vs. Confrontation. The conflict avoidant person will cower at both of these words. But if the thought of being a perpetually passive, compliant, floor mat doesn’t appeal to us we should embrace assertiveness (the ability to say what we want and not want, ask questions, make our needs known) and eliminate confrontations (pulling the pin on a hand grenade and throwing it at our partner). Application: speak the truth in love. 

 

What I Do Not Tell Pre-married Couples

Love struck couples awash in neuro-chemicals triggering the pleasure centers of the brain are rarely in a place to think clearly about the future. So I have high praise for those who invest in pre-marital counseling. We discuss things like expectations, conflict resolution, communication, money, sex, fidelity, and grace.

C. S. Lewis, author of A Grief Observed

C. S. Lewis, author of A Grief Observed

But there’s one thing I do not mention, a quote from C. S. Lewis, “…bereavement is a universal and integral part of our experience of love. It follows marriage as normally as marriage follows courtship” (A Grief Observed, page 58-59).

I coach pre-married couples on the stages of marriage but have never included bereavement as one of the stages. This is a deliberate choice on my part. What star struck couple needs to be reminded that, unless they die simultaneously, one of them will die first leaving the other alone, bereft, and bewildered?

I heard yesterday of an 80 year old man who finally retired and his wife died the following week. He’s now in the universal bereavement stage.

Why do I not include this sobering truth in my work with pre-married couples? Because I get energy seeing the joy of young (and old) lovers. I get no pleasure raining on parades. They will figure it out eventually.

Soft Start Ups

Peanuts.Harsh.PE4

Our old friend Charlie Brown nailed it–his soft answer turned away a whole flock of wrath. Marriage researcher John Gottman provides us with a list of questions to measure the level of softness in our relationships. How many of these statements are true for you and your partner?

  1. My partner is often very critical of me.
  2. I hate the way my partner raises an issue.
  3. Arguments often seem to come out of nowhere.
  4. Before I know it, we are in a fight.
  5. When my partner complains, I feel picked on.
  6. I seem always to get blamed for issues.
  7. My partner is negative all way out of proportion.
  8. I feel I have to ward off personal attacks.
  9. I often have to deny charges leveled against me.
  10. My partner’s feelings are too easily hurt.
  11. What goes wrong is often not my responsibility.
  12. My spouse criticizes me personally.
  13. Issues get raised in an insulting manner.
  14. My partner will at times complain in a smug or superior way.
  15. I have just about had it with all this negativity between us.
  16. I feel basically disrespected when my partner complains.
  17. I just want to leave the scene when complaints arise.
  18. Our calm is suddenly shattered.
  19. I find my partner’s negativity unnerving and unsettling.
  20. I think my partner can be totally irrational.

If you have five or less TRUE answers you and your partner know how to initiate difficult conversations gently without being critical or harsh. This increases your chance of resolving conflict. If you have six or more TRUE answers one or both of you tends to be harsh, contemptuous, critical, defensive, or withdrawing. This prevents issues from being resolved. If your spouse tends to raise issues harshly the best advice I can give is to make sure he/she feels known, respected, and loved by you and that you accept his/her influence often.

Try the Charlie Brown approach and see how it works!