Mind Reading, Expectations, Emotional Intelligence, Valentine’s Day
Given that I don’t watch much television (“any” turned into “much” once I started watching “Downton Abby”), I find watching commercials a rare event in my life. Other than the carefully crafted and clever Super Bowl commercials, I find myself doing a lot to avoid advertisements selling me the latest and greatest.
I especially find Valentine’s Day advertisements annoying. Why? Because many of them focus on just a handful of clichéd themes surrounding the nature of romance. Usually, there is an engendered story: man needs to buy his wife a gift to show that he loves her, and he feels pressured to pick just the right thing without being told what might make her happy. Get it right, and she’s happy and over the moon! Get it wrong, and he’s in the doghouse for days to come.
What are we really seeing here? It’s the management of expectations, specifically around that of mind reading, called Mind Reading Expectations, or MRE. The man is supposed to know what the woman wants without her having to tell him, a sort of, “Where’s the fun in that?” mixed with, “He should know me by now.”
Psychology Today posted a short article on the subject of MRE. In the article, a study that measured a person’s MRE after recalling a time of feeling and expressing disappointment, sadness, or anger towards a partner and not having those negative emotions recognized by the partner/spouse played out in combative behavior or the silent treatment by the offended partner.
The disturbing thing about MRE is that it’s presence derails the communication from the real content of what it is that is bothering the offended partner, such as feeling lonely or misunderstood, and moves it towards behaviors that are toxic to relationships. When your partner is silent and sullen, or picks a fight over anything and everything, it’s all too easy to focus on the behaviors instead of addressing what is underneath them.
Hacking the Fairytale of MRE
Somewhere along the way, we may have picked up stories and retold them to ourselves until we believed them to be true. A partner loves me when he “just knows” what to do when I am upset. He loves me because he always knows to just [fill in the blank with an action].” With more time, our expectation that these loved ones know us better than we know ourselves becomes a part of the fabric of an elaborate fairytale. We want someone to step in and make our lives better.
While we all seem to know that fairytales are for children, some of us persist on in our belief that the fairytale must be replicated for the adult. When our reality falls short, we may project our disappointment and anger on the people closest to us. He just doesn’t care about me. She just doesn’t understand me.
When we hack the fairytale, we stop equating romance with the results of lucky mind reading. A happy relationship can include careful, conscientious negotiating, detailed communication of preferences, and hard conversations about what doesn’t work. It can also include times where you might not get everything you want, or you choose to verbalize to your partner that you are upset, instead of being silent because he missed your upset cues.
You won’t need a lot of words. You just need a few choice ones, said in the right tone and with an open heart to keep the door open for communication. Dropping the MRE means you choose to stop punishing your partner for your perception of his or her insensitivity, and working towards getting to the real issues when both of you are ready to work it through.
Where’s the Magic?
Mind reading powers on the part of your loved one can feel very special, as if he or she has magic powers. We think of people, such as a parent or a grandparent, who always seemed to know the right thing to say or do when we needed it most. When we wake up from the dream that our closest relationships do not need mind reading in order for us to be happy, it can seem to put an end to the magical outcomes.
Creativity can bring magic to any relationship without mind reading. You can actually talk about some parameters around what you would enjoy, yet leave the door wide open for options you never thought of. You no longer need to equate what is chosen with how much you’re worth, or how well your partner loves you. When a couple decides to drop their MRE’s, they can choose to free their partner to be creative in expressing their love and enjoyment of the other without the pressure of trying to hold up the old fairytale.
I’ll leave you with an old favorite video on Youtube, Nerdy Love Song (with kitten bonus). By telling it like it is, all the MRE goes away.
P.S. Happy Valentine’s Day!