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Articulate your needs in your relationship

Relationships are not about score-keeping. Clearly communicate how you are feeling to your partner

Let the other person clearly know when you are hurt or disappointed.(iStockphoto)

By Sonali Gupta

LAST PUBLISHED 17.02.2024  |  01:00 PM IST

I remember working with a male client, in his 40s who said during a therapy session, “There are times I can gauge that there is something that has impacted my partner or that they are not feeling good, but I don’t know what has led to it. When I try and ask, my partner gets more irritated and tells me that I am supposed to understand after so many years of being in the relationship. At those times, I don’t know what to say, so I become quiet and this leads to more arguments as my partner feels I’m not supportive. I feel helpless. How can we work through this?"

This is a concern that often shows up in therapy sessions. Most clients reach out saying that absence of communication impacts their satisfaction and leads to friction. Over the years, as I have worked with clients, I have come to understand it is the beliefs clients harbour that come in the way of clear communication. Mind-reading is one of these beliefs that is most common and the one to which my client was referring. He didn’t know what to do when there was an expectation to understand and offer support, even though the problem or concern was not articulated. Mind-reading in an intimate interpersonal relationship is about believing that your partner should be able to gauge what you are thinking, feeling and should sometimes even know how you want to be supported or loved. We may also carry this belief with regard to our friendships and our own family.

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Most clients talk about it as a pain point that contributes to smaller issues taking the form of larger conflicts around not feeling seen or heard. As a result, mind-reading takes the form of an unhealthy belief that leads to breakdown of communication. Learning to recognise this allows people to communicate better and in a timely fashion.

While being generous, empathetic and perceptive are important to a relationship, it is unrealistic to believe that our partners can read our minds and know every little thing that annoys us. With couples, it gets trickier if one partner is particularly better at gauging and being sensitive to what the other person is feeling. In such cases, it often comes across in sessions as the other person not making enough of an effort.

I believe that any relationship is not a score-keeping endeavour and our partners come with their own skill sets and upbringing. Choosing to communicate clearly and letting them know when we are hurt, disappointed or feeling slighted is a starting point.

The readiness and the intent that the person shows to resolve the concern, take accountability and work through it to understand where you are coming from is the most crucial bit. This is a lifelong process because our preferences and who we are, are continually evolving, so it’s unfair to expect anyone to see what we are feeling, without us articulating about it.

My sense is that our narrative of mind-reading is linked to how our parents always knew what we wanted when we were little. Our past relationships and how life has treated us and our internal struggles determine our reactions and how various events make us feel. So, while our partner may have context to our life, they may never completely know our internal landscape.

Be flexible and do not get caught in the web of mind-reading. Instead, clearly articulate what is happening to you and how you want to be supported, whether it is a hug, some soothing words or a quiet presence. This empowers both people in the relationship to actively address big feelings.

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Let communicating our needs become the language of love, whereby there is space to give and receive love.

Sonali Gupta is a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist. She is the author of the book Anxiety: Overcome It And Live Without Fear and has a YouTube channel, Mental Health with Sonali.

Also read: Skip the platitudes, offer non-judgmental supportive presence