Have you ever heard something from your girlfriend like, “I shouldn’t have to tell you what I want, you should already know!” (or maybe you’ve said these words yourself). Or have you found yourself wondering why you and your husband have repeated conflicts that you later find out are the result of some type of silly misunderstanding or miscommunication? Today I’m going to discuss the problem of assuming that your partner knows what you are thinking and knows what you want without you having to tell her. We’ve all done this at some point or another – if we are not paying attention, we have a natural tendency to think that others experience situations the exact same way we do, and thus think they will naturally have the same reactions that we do.
Of course we know rationally that this is not true. There are a myriad of factors that play a role in why we all respond to situations differently, including:
- Family background
- Life experience
- Cultural background
- Biological factors
- Emotional reactivity
Assumptions are more likely to take place in long-term romantic relationships because lives can become so intertwined that we begin to think of our spouses and partners as almost extensions of our own selves. This makes it all the more shocking when your husband or wife so fundamentally misunderstands what you are saying when you thought you were speaking clearly.
Working with couples in therapy, I frequently hear couples say they don’t want to have to tell their partners things they think they should already know. Though not typically spoken out loud, the more subtle message is, “If he doesn’t know, he must not really care about me.” I believe these types of communication standoffs do not work well in relationships. They typically are a setup for both people to fail because it leaves one person in the position of being tested to find the RIGHT answer – but she is not in his head, so how is this actually possible? It’s NOT! Instead, it is essential for both parties to be as open as possible about their wants, needs, and problems.
So how can you tell if unspoken assumptions or expectations are leading to communication breakdown in your relationship? Ask yourself the following questions to see how many apply to your relationship:
- Do you or your partner frequently find yourself thinking or saying, “I shouldn’t have to tell him/her what I want, he/she should already know?”
- Do arguments/conflicts frequently seem to start out of nowhere over relatively insignificant issues?
- Do you or your partner frequently find yourself thinking negatively about what he/she is doing wrong?
- Do many of your conflicts involve misunderstandings related to communication?
- Are you or your partner feeling large amounts of resentment toward each other?
- You or your partner are feeling frequently hurt or uncared for
The issues listed above could arguably be present in any relationship experiencing communication difficulties, but I would suggest that those who make assumptions about what the other is thinking or rely on their partners to read their minds have a particular flavor to them. These types of communication problems feel like there is just something missing or like the people involved are speaking a different language. This is because there is something missing! When information is not verbalized, it’s like one person is experiencing one event, and the other is experiencing an entirely different one (even though they are in the same room at the same time doing the exact same thing).
So if you are stuck in a pattern of problematic communication due to assumption-making, how do you change it? These dynamics can be difficult, but there are a few things you can do to make a difference:
- Look at the list above and be honest with yourself! First step is to be aware of the issue.
- Gain a deeper awareness of your own feelings (hurt, resentment, etc.) and the problematic role they might play in communication
- Recognize that it is usually always the case that your partner is not trying to hurt you intentionally
- Stop expecting that your partner can read your mind! No matter how long you have been together or what the issue is, THEY CAN’T!
- Practice communicating your feelings more openly
Overall, it is most important to remember that you and your partner are on the same team and if you can improve your communication skills it will FEEL like it most of the time too! Working on the issue of making assumptions about the other is one that can have a valuable payoff over the long run.
The counselors at the Salt Lake Relationship Center are experienced in helping people identify hidden assumptions and expectations in relationships are happy to help you develop your communication skills in this area. Contact us or click here to schedule an appointment to take steps toward changing your relationship patterns today!