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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Some Thoughts About Anger

anger cartoon NYKR

A while ago I received the following email.

Hi Mr. Johnson, I am a reporter for Klipsun Magazine at Western Washington University. I am writing an article on anger management and I would love to have your point of view on the subject. Such as, how to handle anger, why it happens, and gender differences….Thank you so much for your help, (name).

Hi, (name). Here are some thoughts re. your great questions.

1. How does anger management develop?

A person either realizes their anger is not serving them well and undertakes a plan of self improvement on their own initiative, OR family and friends convince them to get help, OR (worst case scenario–violence) the court requires people to get their anger under control. Once the angry person is on board with the goal of reducing their anger I work with clients to engage in three tasks: 1) list all the benefits of controlling anger (rather than it controlling us); this keeps us motivated when the battle gets hard. 2) Track the five stages in the anger sequence [trigger, thought, physiological responses, emotion, and action]. By identifying and separating these five stages we get more power over them. 3) Work on the primary culprit in anger, namely, our thoughts. The counseling term for this is cognitive therapy.

2. How can anger management be maintained?

Keep reviewing the benefits of conquering anger–lower blood pressure, less cost for broken items, fewer doctor bills for broken hands or feet for hitting or kicking stuff, longer lasting friendships, more free time in our brains to use for productive stuff, etc.

3. What is the difference between getting angry and having an anger management problem?

Getting angry is a good and proper response to injustice, cruelty, oppression, etc. Think MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. They channel their anger and hurt into traffic safety laws, etc. If I had the magic ability to make all anger vanish I wouldn’t use it. We need anger to inspire battling the things that need battling. But there’s a thin line between healthy anger and problematic anger. Anger becomes a problem when we’re angry in the wrong way, at the wrong time, with the wrong people, for the wrong reasons (this is my paraphrase of a quote from Aristotle). Anger problems can creep up on us and because of denial or cluelessness we don’t know why we lose friends, get in so many fights, or need so many prescription drugs (or alcohol) to calm down, etc. So when family and friends suggest we may have an anger problem it’s a good idea to consider that what they’re saying might be correct.

4. What would you suggest to your patients to deal with their anger?

In addition to the steps above, we deal with practical matters like stress relief, healing the hurts, fears, and jealousies behind much of our anger, and capturing those distorted cognitions that fuel anger. “That motorist cut me off on purpose” vs. “Maybe they’re on the way to the hospital to have a baby.” “If a person criticizes me my life is ruined” vs. “Hmm, they’re sure having a bad day,” or “I demand that life be fair!” vs. “Oh well.”

5. What is the difference between female anger and male anger?

To be honest in my experience both genders get angry with only a few subtle variations. Stereotypes bug me but anecdotally I believe it takes longer for guys to calm down once elevated and it takes longer for women to let stuff go. Other than that, both men/women explode, hit, fume, stuff, scream, etc. And the strategies for de-escalating are the same. Here’s a recent blog post on this theme which is only partially tongue in cheek.

Wow! Thank you so much! Anger is an interesting subject, I’ve gotten a lot of different feedback on how people deal with their anger, such as some may yell and others might bottle it up. Again, thank you so much for your thoughts. It has really helped my article. (name).

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).