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We Expect Each Other to "Mind Read" our Needs

Wouldn’t it be nice if your partner just knew what you needed all the time? If at precisely the right moment he would just be there with the perfect compliment or item or whatever without you even asking? Dream on. Even the most communicative of couples are unable to completely anticipate each other’s needs.

The desire to have one’s needs met, however, is deeply rooted in your past. The concept of mind reading may well be a vestige of childhood. At that time in your life, you expected your parents to anticipate your every need, perhaps before you were even cognizant of what you wanted. As adults, however, we must be responsible for our own needs. That’s part of what it means to be a grownup. But in that same vein, if our needs involve our partner, it is up to us to speak up. Unfortunately, we all-too-often don’t.

The problem is that within silence lives a major precipitating factor for relationship failure. While it may be commonplace in this day-and-age to gripe about “communication problems,” many couples — influenced by the images of romantic love promulgated in our media-driven culture — believe that they should be inextricably linked to their partner through an innate understanding and sensitivity. In effect, they say, “You ought to know how I feel or what I mean if you really love me.” Realistically, however, this is often not the case.

You Should Just Know Me

Do you and your partner really know each other? Chances are you will answer “yes” right away if asked this question. Chances are a better answer would be “sometimes.” Human beings are mutable. People change, ideas change, thought-processes change — that’s how we grow. So to say that you unequivocally know your partner is to put a bit of a damper on the possibilities for growth within your relationship. And to expect your partner to know you and anticipate your every need also puts that growth-barrier on you. The only way your partner could possibly meet your every need would be if you never changed your mind about anything. Pretty limiting, right?

Yet, some would contend that being in a relationship allows them the privilege of being less forthcoming in their efforts to communicate than they might be with casual contacts precisely because their partner knows them better (and therefore presumably can fill-in-the-blanks when things are not communicated perfectly). The only problem with that theory is that if you’re using your communication skills more effectively with strangers than you are with your nearest and dearest, well, soon your partner won’t be your closest confidant any longer.

Additionally, people in relationships tend to consistently overestimate the ability of their partners to anticipate their behavior (and vice versa). Research has supported the claim that closeness does not automatically equal comprehension. Even in the simplest predictions of one another’s behavior, couples are usually wrong.

In a report published in Marriage and Family Living, researchers asked spouses which one of them would tend to talk more during a decision-making process dealing with how they would spend a hypothetical gift of several hundred dollars. The session was taped so that the actual amount of talking done by each could be measured. Only seventeen out of fifty individuals correctly predicted who would be the more active speaker. What’s more, after the session was over and the participants were once again asked who talked more, over half still judged incorrectly

In another study, investigators increased the participants’ motivation to predict correctly by showcasing a myriad of “prizes” — gloves, scarves, lingerie items, belts, and wallets. If, without communication, they could successfully coordinate their choices — that is, choose the same item — they would receive the items as rewards. They all failed. Not one of the twenty-five participating couples succeeded in predicting one another’s choices on as many as five of all twenty items.

In still another study, this time involving 116 couples, each partner was asked separately to give the names of persons considered by both partners to be close mutual friends, not including relatives. In an astonishing result, only six couples were in total accord on this task. One couple even failed outright, completely disagreeing on their mutual friends.

What this illustrates is that while couples may claim to know each other like the back of their hands, chances are they’re pretty frequently off the mark. That said, and studies aside, it should not be surprising that couples who engage in solid communicative efforts are happier and more sexual than those who make no concerted efforts to understand each other. In fact, a major feature in relationships suffering from a lack of intimacy is not a discernible lack of attraction between the partners but more likely a deficiency in their communication skills. In discordant relationships, there is usually a marked failure of both partners to express and be attuned to each other’s feelings and thoughts.

There may be any number of reasons a person might have an inability to “speak up” including coming from an uncommunicative family (which might mean inadequate development of verbal skills), shyness, lack of self-confidence, intimidation, controlled hostility (in which an individual may not communicate in an attempt not to “blow up”), suspicion, self-protection, and so on.

Whatever the reason, most often the deterioration of communication occurs gradually and is the result of an interactive process. For example, sometimes a partner will encourage communication and then discourage it by frequent interruptions, in effect, disqualifying the speaker and her message. Or perhaps one partner will ask for more communication only to then feel like the other partner is “nagging,” which consequently leads to harbored resentment. The bottom line is that there is only one route to a truly happy relationship and that is through communication, not ESP.

The above is an excerpt from the book Sex Comes First: 15 Ways to Help Your Relationship . . . Without Leaving Your Bedroom by Joel Block, Ph.D. & Kimberly Dawn Neuman. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.

Copyright © 2009 Joel Block, Ph.D. & Kimberly Dawn Neuman, authors of Sex Comes First: 15 Ways to Help Your Relationship . . . Without Leaving Your Bedroom

Joel Block, Ph.D., is an award-winning psychologist, practicing couple and sex therapy in New York and offering couple-relationship seminars throughout the United States. Dr. Block has appeared on the Today show, Good Morning America, and CBS Morning. He lives in New York. Visit Joel Block, Ph.D. at

Kimberly Dawn Neumann, is a Broadway performer and highly credited dating/sex/relationship writer. Her work has appeared in Cosmopolitan, Redbook, Marie Claire, Maxim, and more. She lives in New York City.

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