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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Understanding As a Spiritual Discipline

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One doesn’t often think of empathy and understanding as spiritual disciplines but they are. They’re disciplines because they require focus, practice, and hard work. They’re spiritual because they fulfill the command to love our neighbors.

What are the steps to understanding another person?

Listen without judgment. Even if they embrace ideas you find nutty, set aside your inner critic and really listen. Listen for their passion, their emotion, and what makes their heart sing. Everyone deserves a good listening to!

Get curious. Picture this person as a six year old and imagine all the factors that made them the adult they are today. You’re not talking to a mere person, you’re talking to their DNA, training, trauma, choices, parents, siblings, neighborhood, socio-economic background, gender, and shaping by popular culture.

Try on their glasses. Looking at life from another’s point of view is an inexact science. But we can try. See the world through their experience, their values, and their priorities. This is a great exercise for those who don’t have the funds for world travel.

I’m with Lucy in the cartoon above. I think this world would be a better world if there were more understanding between people. We can work on understanding bugs later.

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.

Perspectives Differ

Is this object a triangle, square, or circle? Yes.

If I were to pinpoint one strategy that fosters the greatest understanding it would be, “Look at problems from the other person’s point of view.”

This practice goes by various names: empathy, getting in the other’s shoes, perception is reality, appreciating another’s point of view, validating their experience (even if we don’t agree with it). The opposite is called: being closed minded, don’t confuse me with facts–my mind is made up, your opinion is invalid and pointless, being imperative, rigid, and non-negotiable. Here are some guaranteed impasse breaking comments.

I think you’re loud but maybe you think my ears are too sensitive.

I think you avoid conflict but maybe you think I’m too risky.

I think you’re defiant but maybe you think I’m too bossy.

I think you interrupt too much but maybe you think I lecture too long.

I think you’re not punctual but maybe you think I’m addicted to clocks.

I think you’re a controlling neat freak but maybe you think I’m a slob.

I think you minimize problems but maybe you think I catastrophize problems.

I think you’re too aloof but maybe you think I’m too needy.

I think you’re too sensitive but maybe you think I’m too callous.

Failure to acknowledge, “Your point of view is true to you” escalates conflict.  Being curious about why they hold that point of view, how they arrived at their conclusion, and who else has this opinion leads to fruitful discussion.

At least that’s my perspective.