Relationship Killer: “You should have known what I want…”

frustrated-coupleMind-reading. It’s one of the easiest ways to cause ruptures in friendships or in relationships. It’s not the people who try to read minds that cause the problem, it’s the ones who hope or expect that the other person will read their mind that becomes problematic.

This is a very common phenomenon. It usually comes out as, “get a clue”, “you should just know what I want”, “can’t you take a hint?”, etc.

The hope is that someone will do something nice without being asked, or it can be used in the negative — hoping that someone will know when to give space or not do something. But it usually doesn’t turn out as hoped.

“Get a clue” is often used when someone hopes they’ve given enough signals to indicate what they want or don’t want. However, this is passive-aggressive, even when the clues are seemingly obvious. Passive-aggression will cause problems even if the clues are read “correctly” because it represents a gap in communication and leaves significant room for error in interpretation. It also means that something isn’t being communicated, even if the signals are being read as hoped — a person may figure out that the clues say to stay away from a person, but the reasons and motivation are still not being addressed. Generally, passive types of communication cause more trouble than being direct.

“You should just know what I want” is more of a wish of a fantasy. This usually comes out in relationships in response to one partner not coming through in the way the other hoped. “You should just know that I wanted to be left alone,” or “You should have just known that I want to spend Saturday with you,” or any others. It would be great if everyone always knew what their partners wanted, but it’s not always so simple.

The idea here is that whenever communication is indirect or based on clues and hopes, it’s likely that there will be disappointment and frustration when the clues are misread, or missed altogether. There are so many ways to interpret clues and hints, that even someone who knows you well can misread the intent. Though it may ruin the fantasy by directly communicating wants, needs, and desires — asking for a hug instead of the satisfying feeling of your partner just figuring it out —  direct communication will help ensure you’re on the same page. For how few times the mind-reading game actually works out, many disappointments, arguments, frustrations, hurt feelings, and even breakups could be avoided by remembering that people around us can’t always read our minds. There are other ways to fulfill fantasies than silently waiting and building frustration.

If you want something, or don’t want something, say it. If you want someone to figure it out on their own, be prepared for disappointment when it doesn’t go the way you want.

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7 thoughts on “Relationship Killer: “You should have known what I want…”

  1. lovethedatinggame says:

    I completely agree with your post. Given that men and women have always co-existed together in this world, it’s funny how we still don’t have each other figured out yet.
    But by all means, we should always make clear what we want/don’t want and never put up with other people’s bullshit. This is true not only in dating but in all aspects of our lives.
    It’s a means of building confidence in order to live a truly purposeful life.

  2. John M says:

    But what do you do when you tell your partner what you want & she does the opposite of what you said? Example: You go out to eat & want to take the leftovers home you pick them up off the table & she says wait I get a bag. You say ok I’m going to warm up the car don’t forget the food (Winter in Wisconsin are very cold) And she leaves the food behind & you just left her 3 minutes ago.

  3. Nathan Feiles says:

    Thanks for reading, John. What you’re bringing up is a completely different issue, though. This isn’t about mind-reading as much as she either simply forgot the food if she got preoccupied, or she’s intentionally working against you, which is a separate issue if that’s the case. The topic of this article has more to do with people setting themselves up for disappointment in relationships.

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