The American Psychological Association estimates that 40-50% of first marriages in the United States end in divorce. The divorce rates for second is about 60% according to divorce.usa.edu. So what are the top factors that are contributing to divorce? Some of the factors that are commonly names are communication issues, age at marriage, financial issues, if the person themselves is the child of divorce, and of course the many issues that each of us bring into a relationship. There is one factor that is not often named, that I see time and time again in my work with couples. That factor is “Mind Reading.”
What is “Mind Reading?” It is assuming what your partner is thinking, making assumptions about their intentions, or deciding you know what they are going to say or do based on history, a feeling, or speculation. Too often I hear about fights and substantial rifts that exist between couples based on the misinformation mind reading has provided them. They have made assumptions what the other person is thinking in a particular situation. They have decided what the person’s “real” intentions are behind some statement or action. This comes from their belief that they are reading between the lines. There are even many times that a rift occurs without any fight at all, as the partner assumes what the other person is going to say or do. They just “know!”
I can’t count the number of times that I have sat across from a couple and asked them if they asked the partner what they were thinking, what they meant by something, or what they would have said in a particular situation. Time and again, the answer is the same. I never asked because I “knew” what the answer was. At this point I would stop and have them ask the other person the simple question. More times than not, the partner’s answer is not what they were expecting at all. Often, they were completely off base, and the entire argument or hostility was unnecessary. Their partner was not thinking what they assumed, their intentions were of a good nature, and they would not have been as upset as the other person imagined. I work a lot with the idea of asking the simple question to their partner vs making assumptions. I have seen this have a profound and positive impact on the relationship.
Once couples start to ask each other what they are thinking, what is the opinion, or what they meant by something, there is no room for assumptions or misunderstandings. Of course this does not guarantee that a couple will never disagree, but at least they would be going about things with accurate information. I think once people practice this skill, and they have positive reinforcement and outcomes, they are more likely to make it a regular part of their lives, and their relationships. With this skill in place, there is less room for mis-understanding, and greater chance for openness and success in the relationship. After all if you are addressing this major communication issue, you have already removed one of the top factors leading to divorce off your list!
Are you mind reading? Does this apply to only romantic relationships? No! Think about how this behavior has ever impacted your friendships, your relationships with family, and your work life. Who hasn’t assumed how their boss will and will not react to a situation, what they will and will not say yes too? How different would our lives be if we stopped assuming, and started asking? I will not assume to know, but it seems worth finding out!
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