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  • Dr. Steve Lower

“Love” does not grant “mind-reading”

“If I have to ask…what’s the point?” Julia is absolutely convinced that if her husband really loved her the way he says he does he would have known that she wanted diamond earrings for Christmas. In other words she is convinced that love imparts a magical ability to read the loved one’s mind. Reality is just not so: after all even Santa Claus expects us to write him a wish letter.

Love does not make us mind readers nor can we be held responsible for interpreting any vague complaint into the correct and concrete request silently intended by the dissatisfied party. Complaints in marriage do not solve problems, particularly complaints about the other’s character, such as “you are just like your mother,” or his/her intentions as in “you did this just to hurt me.” Even Santa Claus who, in our childish minds, remains pretty miraculous cannot know by magic how to “make me happy” or to make up for something I always felt I missed out on.

If you need to change your relationship, focus on looking for solutions. Give up on analyzing your partner’s character as in “you do this because your mother died when you were two.” You don’t really know why s/he does this, and even if you actually knew saying this would only be hurtful and serve no practical purpose. There are many theories about why we do what we do but in fact nobody really knows. Intellectually it can be very satisfying to classify behavior in the context of such a theory. It can be helpful to behavioral scientists to use such theories to organize their knowledge. But in practical terms esoteric explanations of the whys and the wherefores of such and such action are totally useless. If you want change present your request in terms of specific behaviors: “Please remember that sitting in the car for long periods hurts my back so drive by the direct route to your mother’s house if I am traveling with you.”

Much of interpersonal dissatisfaction is rooted in the belief of one or both parties that they are not being heard. This part of the problem is the easiest to remedy. Without agreeing or disagreeing about anything it is easy and enormously useful to simply acknowledge the feeling or point of view your partner has just expressed as in “You were upset that I was late,” or “You believe the burden of housekeeping is all yours.” You may not agree, but do not invalidate the other; you are not conceding the truth at this point, only acknowledging a statement.

As the recipient of a request for change be sure to get information from your partner, information about facts and actions, not about interpretations; about needs and not judgments; about specific situations not about global notions like always or never, nobody or everybody.

Above all approach your partner with a charitable attitude: that is what love is.

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