In some superhero movies, a specific event happens that gives the hero their powers. Peter Parker (Spiderman) is bitten by a spider and Bruce Banner (Hulk) is exposed to radiation.
If there could be a super-power for couples to gain from COVID-19, my vote would be for something to vanquish the harm done by mind reading.
Keep reading to see what I mean.
I can’t tell you the damage that four small, ordinary, boring words have done to my clients’ relationships. If I could change one thing, and only one, in Relationship-Land, it’d be this idea that real love includes the automatic super-power of mind reading.
“Julie, what are the four words??” Well, readers, I’m so glad you asked!
“You should have known…”
- “You should have known I needed help bringing in the groceries,”
- “You should have known I was ready to go home,”
- “You should have known I was needed a break from the kids,”
The list of what partners “should have known” about each other is seemingly endless in some relationships. We seem to have bought into the fantasy that if someone really loves us, we won’t have to say or ask for what we want and need.
What’s even more damaging is the reverse of that, the belief that if they don’t automatically know what we want and need, then they don’t really love us.
One of my favorite things to tell my clients (though it may not be one of their favorites to hear) is this:
Don’t hold each other accountable for not meeting unvoiced expectations.
Let’s think about that for a minute. I’m saying don’t make it your partner’s responsibility to meet expectations, desires, wishes, or needs that you haven’t told them exist.
- Don’t punish them for failing to do so.
- Don’t make them guess how to please you; that’s setting them up to fail.
- Don’t test their love like that.
This takes on extra significance now that we’re all quarantined, and normal life has been turned upside down and inside out. SO much of what we always “knew” to be true has changed, and so many new situations are coming up that we’ve never faced before.
You Should Have Known … COVID Edition
Let’s look at a couple of examples, one from before COVID-19, and one after.
A client I see was so hurt that his wife didn’t do anything special for their 30th anniversary…despite him telling her not to. See, he’d had a big surprise trip planned already, and didn’t want her to spend more money or do anything that’d get in the way of that, so he told her to keep it low-key.
She did, making dinner reservations and getting a sitter, finding a great card, and restocking his favorite cologne. His feelings were hurt that she’d taken it so lightly. He reasoned that what she did was all stuff she would’ve done for any anniversary.
What he’d really wanted was for her to go all-out anyway, as a way to show him how much she loved him, but by telling her not to, he’d set her up to fail.
His disappointment marred both their night out and trip, making him distant and sulky, and once again he didn’t tell her why. She was confused and hurt, and by the time he finally told her what was up, so frustrated she had a hard time caring.
Mixed Messages in Mind Reading
A lot of mind-reading involves mixed messages like that. People say one thing but really mean another, and expect their partners to know which message is the real one.
So, the next time you’re disappointed or upset by your partner not knowing what you wanted, take a step back and see if maybe you set them up to fail, making it impossible to do anything other than disappoint you.
Quarantine Mind Reading
Here’s another example, from this past month of social distancing, quarantine, and world-wide shut-downs:
A couple who each work outside the home are now both at home, as are most of us. Their usual routine is for one of them to get the children up and fed while the other sleeps in, then they hand the kids off.
Because one has a longer commute and an earlier start to the work-day, that made perfect sense. Now with them both at home, however, they didn’t talk about reworking the system, and the “early bird” parent started to get resentful about not getting a chance to sleep in.
They had a session with me after a couple weeks of frozen silence and snark commentary, and we quickly uncovered the unspoken message there. All it took was a candid conversation to rethink the daily routine and all was well.
But before we got there, the “early bird” parent said those dreaded words, “You should have known I’d want to sleep in, now that I can. How could you not ask? I thought you were just being selfish, that you didn’t care.”
More than ever in modern history, our social and relationship constructs are being completely shaken up and disrupted.
Nothing is as it was, and nothing can be taken for granted. It’s more important than ever before to be clear and overt about what we want and need, so let’s make open communication the super-power to come from this pandemic!