Here's the Thing: Your Partner Can't Read Your Mind

A MASSIVE SWEETHEART:

One thing I really value in my relationships - both romantic and otherwise - is the ability for the other person to notice when I am feeling sad/mad/anxious etc. I don't expect them know why I am feeling that way, but I want them to notice if I come home from work feeling sad or if I seem agitated to ask why. Nothing makes me feel more seen or valued than for someone to a) notice I'm feeling some type of way and then b) follow up on it. I don't think this is necessarily unreasonable to expect of someone, especially when you've known them a long time and have a close intimate relationship. 

The obvious caveat here is that open, honest communication is the bedrock of any relationship, and I could just go to the other person and say, "Hey, I'm feeling really sad today, can we talk about it?" Which I do, often. But I can't help but wishing I didn't always have to do that outreach myself (something I'm working on in therapy). It doesn't feel as gratifying to me if I really have to spell out how I'm feeling to someone else, and I sometimes end up resenting them if they don't have an intuitive understanding of how I feel. Logically, I know the healthier answer here is to just be able to talk to whoever this is, but is it bad that I just want someone else to know me deeply enough that I don't have to explicitly tell them all the time? How much am I reasonably allowed to expect?

SOPHIA:

We all have needs both reasonable and unreasonable, little bugaboos that we require and desire from other people that make dating us (or even befriending us) a real nightmare. For example, left unchecked, I am a pouter; I can shut down completely when things don’t go my way and become a taciturn little brat unless I actively work to override that.

Anyway, my point is, there is never going to be anyone you meet who is 100% easy to get along with all the time, who only has reasonable expectations and who is ever-agreeable. If there were, they’d probably be boring. So, please understand that when I point out your expectation as unreasonable, I’m coming to the discussion with a HEAPING SPOONFUL of empathy!!! We’re all unreasonable at times, and it’s fine!!!

And I’m here to break it to you that you’re being unreasonable. I really, really, really wish I didn’t have to break the news, and I am, in fact, a bit ambivalent about just unreasonable your needs are, because of course we all want partners who are tuned into who we are. I used to feel the exact way you felt quite a lot when I started dating my boyfriend, and it did not pan out well for me (because he cannot and doesn’t want to read minds; he had the perfectly reasonable expectation of “my partner will let me know what she’s feeling.”)

Let’s set some truths out here, shall we? Very little feels as good as being understood and listened to does; it’s the emotional equivalent of wrapping yourself in a blanket right out of the dryer. Furthermore, being understood and listened to is a deep form of intimacy. People often give as the reason that they are marrying their spouse, “They know me better than anyone else.” I don’t want you to think that that in and of itself someone knowing how you feel is unreasonable.

The part which seems, to me, unrealistic, and therefore a set up for failure, is the whole “my partner needs to guess how I feel.” I know you’re using the word intuit, which makes it seem a whole lot fancier than a guess, but guessing is about what you’re asking for. You’re asking for someone to pick up on a mood that you don’t want to vocalize, which is pretty difficult to do correctly all the time. I know you don’t expect perfection. And honestly, most people do pick up on moods, and most partners will, to some extent, be able to read what you’re feeling. But then what?

Then they have to guess how you’d like them to respond? So now they have to guess/“intuit” how you feel and then guess/“intuit” how you want them to respond and the only thing you want to take ownership over is the why. Which,—to me—reads as: you want them to ask you how you are so you can unload; that’s the part you enjoy. We all enjoy that part!! Don’t get me wrong. But, as you point out, the healthier option for both of you is to say, “Hey, I had a shit day can I vent for a bit? I don’t need a solution, I’m just really frustrated about work.” That’s a partnership-focused way of handling your emotions rather than the self-focused method you dream of which is “guess my feelings and maybe it will go well, maybe it won’t.”

Right now, what it feels like you’re doing is setting up tests for another person. “If you really loved me… /If we were really as close as you say… you would notice and address my feelings.” First of all, when you start testing someone, the relationship is already sour; you’re setting up a terrible and often controlling dynamic out of desperation, rather than just saying, “Hey, I feel loved when you ask me how my day was at work because I’m not always good at sharing unprompted.” But also, when you test people, they’re going to fail those tests sometimes, which is still going to lead to resentment on your part. And if they somehow manage to meet your expectations long enough to stick around for a while, you’re in danger of them becoming so attuned to your needs that their sensors are too-sensitive and pick up too much. All of a sudden your partner is worried because you’re doing the dishes loudly which is something you do sometimes when you’re mad and you aren’t mad but they keep asking “Why are you mad? You seem mad,” because you’ve trained them to read minor clues that might not mean anything and now you can’t convince them that you aren’t mad because they are not trained to listen to the words coming out of your mouth. You two have not practiced verbal communication, you’ve required non-verbal-heavy methods.

I think you need to work with the therapist you mentioned to get to the bottom of why you feel so loved when people intuit your feelings. Were your emotional needs ignored as a child? Are you out of practice or embarrassed by verbalizing your needs? Are you using this as a short hand for intimacy? Do you feel like people don’t listen to you when you talk? What is is that is really making this issue feel so crucial to understanding who you are. What other ways can someone express that they know you that aren’t this alone.

A lot of women are really really good at picking up on non-verbal cues, and men as a generalization are worse at this. I think for women, it often feels obvious that someone feels X way. (Of course, I don’t know if you date men or women at all, perhaps you exclusively date nonbinary or gender nonconforming folks, and no one fully embraces all the patterns of their gender all the time). I imagine that your desire for people read you is not just exclusive to romantic relationships; you’re going to encounter people all over the map on how good they are at intuiting your feelings. But even people who are impeccable at this mess up and no one wants you to just hand over all the work of your emotions to them. That isn’t fair.

You’re certainly allowed to expect whatever you want, you’re allowed to ask for things that are unreasonable and unhealthy, but which make you feel loved. But I don’t think this stringent of an expectation will pan out well for you. I think it will hurt and frustrate both you and your partner. It’s like insisting on communicating via sticky notes instead of email with your coworkers. You’re choosing the harder form of communication.

As a reminder, a good partner will pick up on your moods and feelings sometimes; I’m not suggesting that it’s wild to think someone would be attuned to your needs. A partner will ask, “Hey are you doing ok, you seem a little off?” That happens fairly often in relationships. Intuiting feelings just can’t be the default; that’s the fail-safe, the backup. The first line of defense is verbal communication. It’d be like booby trapping your house instead of just locking the door. Who I think you should start looking for, who a great partner is, is someone who puts in a real effort to understand you—even if you have to let them know when you need help.

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