If My Partner Really Knew Me, If They Really Cared, They Would Just Know…
By Samantha Steininger, LGMFT
My first wedding anniversary fell as I was approaching the end of my time in graduate school earning my Master’s degree in Couples and Family Therapy. My husband and I looked at our calendars and picked a date, time, and place to have a nice celebratory dinner. I noticed myself feeling dissatisfied with the interaction. I felt sulky and upset. Along with those emotions I noticed unhelpful thoughts that were going through my mind. I decided to respond to those thoughts differently by reframing them in a new way for the benefit of my relationship and myself. Recognizing and reframing unhelpful thoughts can be difficult for anyone (myself included!). As you continue reading, see if you can identify with any of these common unhelpful thoughts in your own relationship. Challenge yourself to remain open to the reframes and how they resonate with you.
Unhelpful Thought: But if he really knew me and really cared then he’d know that it’s disappointing and not romantic to have our first anniversary arranged like some task that’s scheduled like a doctor’s appointment.
Reframe: One of the common unhelpful thinking patterns is called “mind reading.” Sometimes we assume we already know exactly what our partner is thinking and sometimes we assume our partner should already know what we are thinking. Consider this expectation in another context, “if my landlord wasn’t so self absorbed, he’d know from our conversations that I’ve had a hard month and will be late on the rent.” “If my boss cared about me at all they would remember that my sister’s wedding is coming up and not expect me to complete a request for leave time”. “If the other drivers were decent people they would understand that I need to get over three lanes”. Even when you’re in the left turn only lane, it’s still best practice to turn on your blinker. The same goes for our relationships; it’s best practice to make what seems obvious to you, clear to your partner.
Unhelpful Thought: But we’ve been married for a year now. Shouldn’t he know that I want to be wooed, romanced, and sought after for this special occasion?
Reframe: When you notice yourself thinking in “shoulds” you ought to pause and consider that you’re experiencing an unhelpful way of thinking. Shoulds create expectations that have not been clearly expressed, and those types of expectations often lead to disappointment. Try reframing that “should” into an opportunity for sharing, expressing desires, and being vulnerable. Maybe what you think should be ingrained in muscle memory by now is in fact a new revelation to your partner. Staying curious and open to learning new things about your partner creates a sense of renewal and discovery that encourages connection and keeps your relationship from becoming rote and dull.
Unhelpful Thought: But I know the things that he likes and make him feel special and loved, so why can’t he do the same for me?
Reframe: Congratulations! Consider yourself a thoughtful, considerate, and altruistic partner. Except not so fast since you’re keeping score and playing quid pro quo. Why do parents love their children more than the children seem to love them? Because giving cultivates love. Give to your partner because you want to be a loving partner, not because you want to get in return. Also, be patient; give your partner the benefit of the doubt that for whatever reason doing these things doesn’t come as naturally for them as it does for you. Trust that they’re working on it. Give friendly reminders. Authentically help them hone this new skill by setting them up for success.
Unhelpful Thought: But if I ask for what I want then he’ll have only done it to make me happy. It’s not genuine. It doesn’t count. I want him to want to do it, not feel obligated to do it!
Reframe: WRONG! Let’s think about that first statement together for a moment: “they’ve only done it to make me happy” and this is a problem because…? We often give ourselves far too much credit for the power and influence we hold over our partner. Outside abusive circumstances, no one can make anyone do or feel anything. We all make choices. You have every right to make your desires known to your partner. That does not guarantee that your partner will meet those requests. That’s the risk-taking and vulnerability piece. Are you willing to put your need out there knowing full well that the answer might be no? Or, are you assuming that if you’ve said it then their answer should be yes? (If so, see above comments on “shoulds”). If your partner’s answer is “yes” and they do what you’ve asked then you can choose to see it as insincere or you can choose to see it as “wow, I put my desire out there for my partner to see and they really listened and followed through.”
So what ended up happening? I decided to take a risk and put my newlywed money where my therapist mouth was. I grabbed a piece of paper and a pen. I wrote a quick note and passed it to my husband. He was confused but he read it anyways. He turned to me and said “I would like to take you out to dinner for our anniversary. How about this place at this time on this day?” I was shocked by how thrilled I felt. All of the hurt and bitter feelings were replaced with excitement, love, and all the warm fuzzies I wanted.
So what were the magic words in the secret note that created an emotional 180 and a moment of connection? I wrote: I’d like for you to ask me on a date.
Hopefully you are in a relationship where you and your partner both strive to cherish each other and connect intimately. We all have the opportunity to set each other up for success if we can be brave, honest, and vulnerable enough to communicate our wants and desires. Having a clear and open conversation with your partner about the things that make you feel loved is like providing the code to the safe of yourself. Do you want your partner to stay locked out just because they’re not able to somehow guess the right combination or do you want to let them in?
1) Sit down with your partner and each of you make a list of 10 things that make you feel loved. (They can be big or small. Frequent or sporadic. Silly or sincere.)
2) Share your list with your partner, ask each other questions to find out more information and understand what the gesture means to your partner
3) Keep your partner’s list for reference and do it!