Josh Killam, LPC
Stop trying to read each other's mind. Practice saying No and say what you really mean.
I often have clients come in to see me asking for help with their intimate relationships. It typically starts with something like, "I can't seem to do anything right." This was followed by how the partner was reprimanded for not knowing precisely what their significant other wanted from them. "It's like I am supposed to be able to read their mind or something." Even though at no time in human history have we discovered the ability for humans to read minds, and yet somehow, most of us have experienced that feeling in a relationship at some point.
The first thing we do with this problem is to identify whether or not the client feels guilty and responsible for not being able to read their partner's mind. As impractical as it might be, we often feel guilty and blamed when we don't read our partner's mind correctly. So we explore their responsibility in the relationship and try to rid them of any unfair or misplaced responsibility. This begins with something like, you are not responsible for your partner's feelings. That one typically takes a second to sink in. So let me repeat it. You are not responsible for your partner's feelings.
A vital first step in communication with an intimate partner is recognizing what is and is not your responsibility. "If I'm not responsible for my partner's feelings, then what am I responsible for?" At this point in the conversation, I explain to them that it is your responsibility to listen and gently demand that your partner tell you the truth. The demand word often gets pushed back, so we spend some time working through what that might mean for them. This is what we mean when we say, "you bring out the best in me." There is an appropriate amount of pressure that we can place on one another to help one another say what we really mean or ask for what we really need.
It is also your responsibility to say No when necessary. For example, when your partner's request is vague and general and then somewhere inside you, you get a feeling that they are not quite saying everything on their mind. WHICH THEY AREN'T! (Trust your feelings) This is when your job is to say no; I need for you to be more explicit with what you are asking for. It gets tricky because we often don't really know what we are asking for or what we want. It is our communication. These conversations turn into little archeological digs where we both have the best intention for the other in mind and are genuinely curious about what the answers might be.
Stop trying to read each other's minds. It doesn't work. Stop allowing Mind Reading to be accepted but rather start saying, "no, we both deserve better, so I am going to sit here and help you articulate to me exactly what it is you are asking, but we both deserve, and we will both be happier for it." This is a collaborative process; we need intimacy from another person to help us be our best selves, including knowing what we need or want from other people.