Mind Reading Expectations Can Cause Marital Frustration

Do you believe our spouse should be able to anticipate our wants and needs? Is mind reading a natural talent we should all acquire once we say, “I do?” (Some of us act like it is.) We want to ask you: How many times have you said similar statements to these?

• “Well, he (she) should know how I feel about _____ and how it would upset me.”

• “He (she) has eyes and must see that I could use help. Why do I have to ask for it? No one would have to ask me! I would just know.”

How about?

• “If I have to ask for help with _____ why bother? Do I have to spell out everything I need from him (her)?”

After all, our spouse loves us and should just KNOW our needs? Right? Well, yes and no. Yes, a growing “familiarity” in our love relationship can cause us to know each other in many, many ways. Steve and I can often finish each other’s sentences. And many times we are pretty sure we know how our marriage partner will react to a certain situation.

Mind Reading Expectations?

But then there are those other times where we’re completely off base in our expectations. He/she DIDN’T know what we needed, even though we thought it was quite evident. Or we’re completely wrong in what we thought our spouse was thinking. We THOUGHT we knew. But we didn’t! Both scenarios are recipes for frustration!

So here’s the situation: In a perfect world, we should be able to know our spouse well enough where we know their needs/wants. But who is living in a perfect world? Isn’t that what we can anticipate in Heaven? Perfection? But what do we do about this situation as it arises on this side of heaven? That’s something we have been struggling with during our many years of marriage.

First, our mind reading confession time:

For many years I wanted—actually expected that Steve should be able to read my mind. I felt he should just KNOW what I wanted/needed. I didn’t feel that I should have to tell him. If he really loved me, why didn’t he know me better than that? But his actions (or non-actions) showed he didn’t. And that always perplexed me. Sometimes it still does. I can still fall into the mind reading expectation trap, even after all these years. And it is a trap. But I’m learning not to fall into it.

Sometimes Steve would enter the house and see me working like crazy to get things done. I was frazzled with too much to do and running out of time to do it. Or maybe I was up to my eyebrows with the kids (or now, grandkids) and I desperately needed help. When I would see Steve I’d think, “YES, now he can help me!” I was sure he could read my mind and the circumstances. But no; instead he would say, “hi” and go into another room.

Many times he would just sit down to relax. WHAT? I just couldn’t understand it. How could he do that? Couldn’t he see I needed help? No, he didn’t. He never connected the dots. If I said something, he would do what I asked for. But on his own, it never occurred to him. (I now know this because we “talked” a lot about all of this.) I could go on and on about this (as I’m sure you could). But I’m hoping you get the picture. I had expectations that Steve would meet my needs as he read the situation. But he didn’t. And that didn’t make him wrong. It was what it was.


I’ve also held onto a lot of mind reading expectations throughout our marriage. And sometimes I still grab onto them. The biggest issue centered on making love. I thought Cindy should want to make love as much as I did. And when she didn’t, I eventually turned my expectations in another direction. I thought she should know how much I needed it. So of course, because she loved me she would try to meet my needs. (I also thought that if she would just try, she would eventually enjoy it as much as I enjoyed it.) But I was wrong.

For many years this was a frustrating experience for both of us. Sometimes it was great; but other times it was NOT! And when you put mind reading expectations into the mix, it complicated the matter all the more.

We both had a lot of other issues that revolved around mind reading expectations. Some of them were who would do what, and when. Also, we had different frustrations with getting places on time, getting dinner on the table, housework/yard work issues, and the list goes on and on. One expected certain things to be done one way, and thought that was pretty obvious. The other of us thought the opposite. And BOTH of us thought the other should know that ours was the logical way. But that just wasn’t so! And again, that doesn’t mean either of us is wrong; it just means we’re different!

Working Through Our Mind Reading Expectations

So how have we been working to resolve these differences? First we owned up to our own delusions. And that’s what they are—delusions. If we think our spouse can read our minds (even with “obvious” hinting) or read the current situation in the same way as us, we are seriously deluded! Yes, sometimes it can happen. But many times it doesn’t. And that’s the way it is.

“In marriage, communication often demands listening between the lines, beyond the words being spoken. …Instead of saying what we mean and meaning what we say, we attempt to communicate via hints and innuendoes. Then we wonder why nobody understands us.” (R. C. Sproul)

Isn’t that true? Hints and innuendoes can lead to all kinds of misunderstandings. This leads us to the second point. We stopped with the hinting and hopeless expectations and actually asked for what we wanted.

Author, Cindy Beall and her husband Chris, learned the same thing concerning this issue. Cindy tells first what she learned and what precipitated her learning this.

A Lesson Learned and Worked Through

“Expectations need to be laid out for discussion. When you encounter resentment or frustration, sit down with your spouse and discuss your expectations. After you’ve identified the problem areas, it’s important to begin an ongoing dialogue. Talk about whether your expectations for each other are realistic, and if so, how you can work together to fulfill them.

“These conversations took away part of our romance for me. That’s because, quite frankly, I wanted Chris to pursue me to the point that he could anticipate my every emotional need. But now I’ve learned to help Chris connect the dots. He’s a thinker, and I tend to be more of a feeler, so when we have conflict, he processes through his head while I process with my heart. And that means tears. When the tears begin, what I really need is for him to comfort me, hold me and tell me he loves me. I assumed he knew that, but I was wrong. During one of our first marital conflicts, I started crying; Chris just stood and stared at me. I couldn’t believe he didn’t comfort me with a hug.

“I said nothing and suffered disappointment for years. Finally one day, I asked him, ‘When I’m crying and upset, can you just hold me?’ He said, ‘Yes, of course. Why didn’t you tell me that’s what you needed?’ (Cindy Beall, from her article, You Didn’t Marry a Mind Reader: How to Communicate Your Expectations)

That’s because we hope our spouse is a mind reader. But that’s not how God created him or her.

Saving Yourself the Hassle

Wouldn’t it save us a whole lot of hassle if we dropped that unspoken expectation and just said something? We’ve both been learning to stop all the wishing and hinting. Instead, we’ve learned it’s better to open our mouths and actually ask for or state what we want/need.

The following are two of my/our favorite quotes concerning this issue:

“When mind reading is taken out of the marriage as an expected form of communication, husbands and wives and families can be spared a multitude of unnecessary frustration.” (Sandra Aldrich)

Sandra also wrote:

Warning: another human being can’t meet all your needs. The only person who can meet all our needs is the Lord. And He had to die first!”

This is SO true! Even God, who knows our every thought, tells us to ask Him for what we need. We can cry about it and say, “That’s not fair. Why should I have to say something? He should just know.” And He does. But He still wants us to ask. And so does our spouse.

Actually, our spouse needs for us to ask. It will spare him or her and US a “multitude of unnecessary frustration.” Do what you can to give grace, give the benefit of the doubt, and just ask. It’s a lot less painful than you may think! At least that’s what we’ve found. And the great benefit is we’re a lot less frustrated!

Cindy and Steve Wright


To help you further, we give a lot of personal stories, humor, and more practical tips in our book, 7 ESSENTIALS to Grow Your Marriage. We hope you will pick up a copy for yourself. (It’s available both electronically and in print form.) Plus, it can make a great gift for someone else. It gives you the opportunity to help them grow their marriage. And who doesn’t need that? Just click on the linked title or the picture below:

Book Cover - 7 Essential Tips


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