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URMC / BHP / BHP Blog / February 2020 / Mind Reading in Relationships

Mind Reading in Relationships

By Melissa Nunes-Harwitt, LMSW

Valentine’s Day comes with an image of couples strengthening their relationship through positive connection: having fun out on the town, enjoying a quiet dinner at home, cuddling on the couch, or exchanging gifts or flowers. But have you told your partner which of those options you would prefer? Or do you think they should just know?

Popular media promotes the idea that couples should be able to finish each other’s sentences, and fulfill unspoken wishes, and supernaturally prevent harm. While entertaining in jewelry commercials and science fiction movies, these portrayals can harm us when it comes to our real-life relationships. The truth is that none of us can read minds; we have to communicate to make ourselves understood. Even the most empathic person does not know how their partner feels at every moment.

Expecting your partner to be able to read your mind can lead to relationship problems. The idea of mind-reading may lead you to stay quiet about what you would like or actions that have upset you. As a result, your partner may do something different than what you were hoping for. They are also unlikely to apologize or change behaviors that they do not know are bothering you. These will naturally cause distress over not getting your needs or desires met. And your frustration will be compounded by the sense that the other person has done something "wrong" in not knowing what you wanted. 

Like any other assumptions, thoughts about mind-reading can be changed. You have the opportunity to improve your relationship and well-being by speaking more openly about your wants and needs.

Think about Valentine’s Day, or another upcoming occasion, and ask yourself: 

  • Have I clearly stated that I have an opinion about what to do that day?
    "There’s something I thought would be fun to do together."
  • Have I expressed what it is that I would like to do?  Remember, your partner won’t know if you don’t say it out loud.
    "I’ve really been hoping to try that new restaurant."
  • Have I been consistent in sending that message both verbally and nonverbally? Verbal communication consists of spoken words. Nonverbal communication includes body language, facial expression, and tone of voice. If you say, "We could see a movie," but you end with a questioning intonation, shrug your shoulders, or look away, your partner may not realize that this is your preference.
    (Looking right at your partner and/or smiling) "Let’s make dinner reservations at that new restaurant for Valentine’s Day."

It may be challenging for you to speak up about what you want. You may have the sense that you are doing something wrong by going against the mind-reading expectation. In fact, telling your partner about your feelings and needs is an emotional "bid," an invitation to connect. You are showing them that they are trustworthy and important to you. 

You can always start by practicing with smaller requests, such as what to have for dinner or what TV show to watch. When you find yourself thinking "but they should just know!", take a deep breath and remind yourself that love is not based on telepathic ability. Over time, you will find yourself expressing your tastes comfortably and giving your partner the opportunity to respond with understanding and support.  

Over time, communication issues in any relationship can build and can contribute to feelings of stress, anxiety, or depression and you may benefit from accessing mental health services.

Behavioral Health Partners is brought to you by Well-U, offering eligible individuals mental health services for stress, anxiety, and depression. Our team of mental health professionals can accurately assess your symptoms and make recommendations for treatment. To schedule an intake appointment, give us a call at (585) 276-6900.


Ury, L. (2019, February 11). Want to improve your relationship? Start paying more attention to bids. The Gottman Relationship Blog.  Retrieved from

Wright, C.N., and Roloff, M.E. (2015). You should just know why I’m upset: Expectancy Violation Theory and the influence of Mind Reading Expectations (MRE) on responses to relational problems. Communication Research Reports, 32(1), 10-19. 

Keith Stein | 2/1/2020

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