One of the fulfilling aspects of a romantic relationship is the feeling that you really know your partner. If you’re in a long-term relationship, think back to the time when you really started to think that you knew your partner well. Now, think back to the first time they surprised you and made you think, “Wow, who is this person?”
It’s an interesting dynamic — you get to know your partner, anticipate their desires, hopes and fears, and then act as if you absolutely got it right. Then… boom — they surprise you. Turns out, people aren’t quite as predictable as we imagine, which can cause problems in a relationship. Writing for Psychology Today, Mark Travers, Ph.D., cites a typical complaint of someone coming to therapy: “Why do I always have to tell my partner what I want in a relationship? Don’t they know already? We’ve been together for more than a decade, for heaven’s sake!”
The problem here is implicit in the hypothetical patient’s complaint: “Don’t they know already?” Well, actually, it might be wise to ask the question with a bit of humility — maybe it’s better not to jump to conclusions and assume you know exactly what the other is thinking.
Travers frames the issue as being a situation where you may need to “unlearn” some of your long-held habits. At its core, this means rethinking your assumptions and reaffirming the value of clear and honest communication. He offers three habits or beliefs we may need to unlearn.
“Unlearning 1: If someone doesn’t honor your request quickly, they don’t care.”
It’s natural, really. You ask your partner for something and they don’t respond. Clearly, they don’t care about you anymore. The romance is gone. Who knows, maybe they’re interested in someone they met at work. Whoa… slow down. Maybe they’re dealing with a crisis at work and they didn’t want to burden you with the situation. In any case, be patient. As Travers says, “Rather than jumping to conclusions about how much someone values you based on how quickly they respond, you should practice patience and learn to give people their space, even close loved ones.”
What’s more, does your partner know that you’re expecting an immediate reply? Is your request urgent? Do they know it’s urgent? This gets back to the fundamental issue of communicating clearly. If you don’t let someone know what you expect of them, please don’t be upset if they don’t meet your expectations.
“Unlearning 2: Others can figure out what you need without you telling them or asking for it.”
That statement is such an obvious red flag that it’s hard to believe mature adults would actually act as if it’s true. But people in a long-term relationship often begin to let such thoughts and habits creep into their relationship. Of course he/she knows what I like/want. No — actually they don’t, not always. So try telling them in a loving and honest way.
“Unlearning 3: Compatibility means no disagreements.”
This one is a little more nuanced. From the beginning of a relationship, if you’re disagreeing on anything and everything, you’re in for tough times. But what about the occasional disagreement? Actually, recent research indicates it’s healthy — with the huge caveat that the two of you need to confront the disagreement in a healthy way. Travers lists three ways you can disagree constructively.
- “Start by expressing your feelings without pointing fingers at your partner or making accusations.”
- “Instead of focusing on what you think your partner did wrong, focus on how their actions made you feel.”
- “Take time-outs when needed.”
In sum, if you’ve fallen into some habits that you’re uneasy about, consider a few things. You’re not a mind reader. People are complicated, your partner being one of those people. Communication is essential. So, maybe it’s time for a nice conversation.