So, You Didn’t Marry a Mind Reader

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Do you believe in mind readers? I don’t think I’ve met a single person who truly does. As much as it is fun to see magicians, illusions, and tricks, all of us seems to have that question burning in our minds: “How did they do that?” That question alone proves to us that we know it’s not real. We’re searching for the loophole that we’re missing to know how we were hoodwinked. Yet somehow when it comes to relationships, so many of us expect our partners to mind read, and are shocked or even offended when they can’t do it right.  

Telling your spouse, “I’m fine,” when you’re really angry at them for something they have done, demanding, “how did you not know I was upset?” when you didn’t offer any indication that you were, and being offended when a spouse folds the laundry when we wanted them to fold AND PUT AWAY, are all instances where mind reading was “supposed” to happen.

Maybe we wish our spouses could read minds, and perhaps we think that we can train them to do so if those “you should have known” exchanges happen often enough. Unfortunately, when faced with an expectation to mind read, most of us get on the defensive. We have been attacked for failing to do something we did not know was expected of us, and our natural instinct is to fight back to make sure that we are protected. The problem with this, is now we have two individuals whose emotions are flared and feelings are hurt, and nothing is going to be resolved.  

Dr. John Gottman discusses the importance of soft startup to handle these conflicts that arise between couples. Soft startup refers to shifting the way you address your spouse so that you are no longer attacking or pushing away, and are instead welcoming and inviting them.

  1. Describe self


Doing it right

Replacing all “you” statements with “I” and “me” statements is the first step to become more welcoming to your spouse, however, just saying “I” is not enough. Describe your feelings, emotions, and sensations. Statements like, “you annoyed me,” or “You didn’t take out the trash again,” attack. Statements like, “I feel upset,” “I am irritated right now,” are softer and easy to empathize with. 

Doing it wrong

Often it seems easy to reword all “you” statements, while keeping the meaning the same. A common phrase you may be familiar with is, “I feel like my partner…” As much as that sounds like an I statement – it contains “I” and “feel” – there is no emotion being described, instead it describes a complaint about the spouse. It’s a small buffer phrase like, “no offense but…” that does very little to soften the blow of the statement that follows. If you feel you may be hiding “you” statements as “I” statements, ask yourself what your emotion is and put it in there. Expressing what your emotions are is much more connecting than expressing a complaint.

2. Describe situation

Doing it right

State what the situation is that has upset you. “I am angry that the house is dirty,” or “I feel upset that I was put on the spot in front of our friends” are great combinations of describing self and situation. No blame has been placed and a clear explanation of the situation is now out in the open.

Doing it wrong

Describing your spouse as the upsetting situation is an easy way to get your partner on the defensive. While it may seem like your partner is the cause of your distress, really it is a situation or action that is hurting. Because of this, remove all blame from your statement. Delete “I’m angry because YOU…” out of your vocabulary and find what the situation is that is upsetting you.

3. Ask for help

Doing it right

Here is where the “you” statements come into play. Reach towards your partner with a direct invitation of what it is you need from them. This can be something as simple as “please hold me,” or “I need to know you care about me.” Often it can feel hopeless when a spouse is upset with you, because you simply do not know what to do to make it better. Asking your partner for help invites them and lets them know they can’t mess up – they know what you need.

Doing it wrong

Adding in afterthought stingers completely nullifies that soft, reaching request. Saying, “Will you please just hold me for once,” or “I need to know you care about me, is that too much to ask?!” turns your seeking statement into an attack. Another danger zone to avoid is comparing what you feel your partner is doing to what you want from them. “I want you to get off the couch and clean the dishes,” communicates negativity and harshness.


As much as we would all love to have our partners knowing what we need before we do, reality is, they never will. Use these tips as well as ones found in the RELATE assessment to better your relationship and resolve conflict in a helpful way.


Written by Melece, Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy. Reviewed by Brian Willoughby, PhD.

One Response to “So, You Didn’t Marry a Mind Reader”

  1. elee411

    I did the RELATE assessment as a single participant today. my partner has previously completed it(some time ago.) Is the assessment done with both surveys? His name is Theodore Weckel. My name is Elizabeth Lee.


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