You promised your lover to be there in sickness and health. But, did you promise that you will always know what is on his or her mind? Where did this myth of “if you love me, you would know” come from? How has it happened that we began to equate “knowing everything about you” with love?
To feel loved, we need to feel known. But to be known, we need to talk, we need to show up, and we need to communicate. I don’t know where we went so wrong that we decided that “true lovers” could skip the step of communication. And to be known means that my partner can read my mind and understand my subtle hints. Again and again, I hear the phrase, “if you loved me, you would know what I need” or “If you loved me, you would know why I am upset.”
Why is “dropping a hint” is problematic? Not everyone understands hints. We are not all great mind-readers. In fact, studies show that we over estimate our skills of mind-reading but, we are terrible at mind-reading (Ames & Kammrath, 2004).
Here is how a hint dropping situation ends:
You tell your partner “I’ll be home late tonight” (You are thinking that if you tell them you will be late they will get the hint that you are still upset about how they yelled at you last night).
Your partner hears, “He/she will be home late tonight” and they go about making plans for the evening.
You get upset and you start making interpretations such as, “he/she is so self-centered. He/she does not even realize that I am upset.”
As you are stewing in your office and staying out late, your partner is pouring him or herself some red wine and enjoying their favorite Netflix show.
As promised, you come home late, only to find your partner on the couch smiling peacefully at the TV screen. You get even angrier. You make more interpretations, confirming your earlier hypothesis; He/she is self-absorbed, stupid, unaware, selfish, doesn’t care about you… You storm off to bed.
By dropping a hint and failing to communicate directly, you exacerbated a situation that could have been tamed by merely sharing your feelings. Sharing your feelings will get you closer to having your needs met. Most importantly, authentic communication is a direct pathway toward intimacy and marital satisfaction.
Expecting your partner to mind-read and sending hints only digs you deeper into your cocoon of misery. It does not benefit your relationship. Period. Hints just intensify your anger at your partner because you are enraged by how oblivious he or she is. You get angrier, and your partner gets more confused. Avoiding direct communication causes you both to be uneasy and feel insecure. It is never clear if someone is upset and both of you end up in a lonely corner where you are constantly wondering if someone is upset because someone failed to “get the hint”.
In summary, if you find yourself dropping hints, take the hint and recognize that you and your partner are not comfortable with communication. In order to avoid the dropping-hints-trap, state your needs clearly and specifically. Remember that your partner does not live inside your brain.
Sara Schapiro-Halberstam, LMHC is a licensed mental health counselor in NYC, where she provides individual counseling and intimacy counseling. You can contact Sara at firstname.lastname@example.org and read more blog posts at www.mwr.nyc