Steve the Mind Reader
Time and time again I hear the same complaint from clients about their significant others. Whether I'm seeing a client for an individual session, helping a couple work through their issues, or talking to a friend about boyfriend woes, some problems in romantic relationships are universal. A few weeks ago, my friend Kate was discussing her frustration and anger because her boyfriend had recently stopped giving her a goodbye kiss before she left for work in the morning. Kate reported that in the beginning of the relationship her boyfriend, Steve, always kissed her before leaving the house. But now things had changed and she feared he was losing interest in her. We continued to talk about this problem, and it became clear that Kate hadn't mentioned this behavioral change to her boyfriend or how it was affecting her. When I raised this point, Kate sounded a familiar refrain, "Why should I have to tell him, shouldn't he just know?"
It is very common for people to assume that their romantic partner should "just know" certain things. But these kind of assumptions can perpetuate communication problems and lead to tremendous conflict. What seems very obvious to one person, may be a complete mystery to another because every one of us has a different history with different baggage. Steve didn't understand the symbolic nature of kissing (or not kissing) his girlfriend goodbye in the morning. Kate was reading all sorts of information into this parting gesture and drove to work stewing over it.
When Kate finally confronted her boyfriend with the issue, he began to laugh. "What are you talking about? That is nothing!" He didn't understand why this was significant to his girlfriend. Steve recently started a new job with a longer commute. He was busy and distracted in the mornings and therefore "forgot" to kiss his girlfriend goodbye. Kate couldn't understand how Steve could forget to do something that was so important to her. After further discussion my friend revealed that at the end of her parents' marriage they stopped being affectionate with each other. She realized that her fear regarding Steve losing interest in her was rooted in her past. When she shared this insight with her boyfriend, he could more easily empathize with her. Going forward, Steve made a conscious effort to give Kate that parting kiss every morning, which in turn comforted and reassured my friend.
Not all relationship problems are repaired so easily, but Kate and Steve illustrate the importance of communication in relationships. We hear this as a buzz word so much that it is easy to lose sight of how it can play out in real life. Initially Kate wasn't sure why the morning kiss was so upsetting, but she didn't ignore her feelings. Kate let her feelings guide her toward introspection and recognized why she was feeling "so irrational." Kate said, "Part of me felt that I was being ridiculous about the whole thing, but another part of me just couldn't let it go. I felt like Steve should understand without me explaining it to him.
Kate realized that Steve is not a mind reader. She felt secure enough in the relationship to open up to Steve about her feelings. Although his initial reaction minimized her feelings, Steve repaired the damage by empathizing with Kate once he understood the deeper meaning behind the kiss. Opening up to a partner about feelings is a risk, but embracing that vulnerability can lead to greater understanding and intimacy.