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.

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.

Some Thoughts About Anger

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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).