This post is the second in our series on Cognitive Distortions — problematic ways of thinking about relationships that lead to conflict, misunderstanding, and dysfunction. During couples counseling in Potomac MD, I see many of these types of behaviors. Last month I shared some thoughts about personalization, and this month I want to talk a little bit about mind-reading.
This is something I see pretty frequently among clients in couples therapy. Partners fall victim to mind-reading when they assume they know what the other person thinks or feels, especially in conflict or when tensions are high. When we commit this common cognitive distortion, we often attribute negative interpretations to our partners’ words, actions, etc. For example, during a conversation in couples counseling, which a Potomac MD couple is struggling to find a solution, one partner might say in anger, “you don’t care about how I feel,” blurring the line between understanding and agreement. Another example happens when a couple is talking about a potential solution to a problem and one partner says to me, “he’s not really going to do what he says he will. He’s just saying that to get me to stop nagging him.” Typically, mind-reading distortions are based in some real experience, but that negative past experience is being magnified and unfairly inserted into the current experience.
So, if mind-reading is a problem in your relationship, how do you stop making this mistake? Here are a few tips:
- Ask questions. Focus on establishing an in-depth understanding of each other’s perspectives as the first goal in a conversation. Only once both partners feel understood can you move to identifying and implementing a solution.
- When asking questions, push yourself to leave all of your assumptions aside and just take in what the other person is saying in that moment. If you can catch yourself falling back on an old experience or assumption, make that overt: “This seems similar to something that we’ve experienced before, and in that situation I understood you felt/thought/chose … Is that what’s going on here, too?”
- Be humble. Let your partner give you feedback if s/he believes you are guilty of mind-reading during an interaction. Be willing to push the reset button on that part of the conversation, and let go of whatever incorrect, negative assumption you’ve made.
Are you guilty of mind-reading in your relationship? Give these tips a try and see what a positive difference it can make to give your partner a chance to tell you what they’re thinking instead of thinking you’ve already got their number.
Lindsey Hoskins & Associates provides couple, family, and individual therapy in downtown Bethesda, MD. If you want the best couples counseling Potomac MD has to offer, please don’t hesitate to email or call us today to set up an appointment or a complimentary telephone consultation.