Recently, we tackled “How to read your wife’s mind.” This time, we tackle the question of why your wife might expect you to read her mind in the first place! These articles are part of our ongoing initiative to equip engaged and newlywed couples. Please pass it along to someone who might find it helpful! Or sign up to receive these research-based weekly tips yourself.
Why does my wife or girlfriend expect me to know what she’s thinking? This is the question asked by many a puzzled or frustrated man in our interviews over the years.
You got her jewelry for her birthday when what she really wanted was a movie night out with her friends. She wanted you to take the kids to the playground on Saturday morning so she could sleep in after a hard week at the hospital, but never actually told you so. She really, really wanted you home early for dinner but you took a late meeting because you didn’t know it mattered.
So now she is sad and you’re frustrated. Why does she not just tell you certain things? Why does she expect you to read her mind? If you’ve been puzzled (or irritated) by those questions, read on. After 18 years of research with more than 20,000 women, including multiple nationally-representative surveys, we have identified four crucial truths that will help you understand this—and what to do about it.
Truth #1: She has a vulnerability inside that you may not be aware of
This may surprise you, but your wife or girlfriend almost certainly doesn’t “expect” you to actually read her mind. However, she probably does expect you to notice when something is wrong and press into it. And on a day-to-day basis, she probably does expect that you will pay enough attention to her to find out what she’s thinking, what matters to her, what is going on in her heart. So before we go any further, we need to explain why that is.
One of the biggest surprises for many men when they read our book For Men Only: A Straightforward Guide to the Inner Lives of Womenis that even the most confident and competent woman—that amazing woman you’re dating or married to—has a subconscious question about whether she is loved and loveable. Under the surface, she’s asking things like: “Does he really care enough about me to want to know me?” “Am I worth being noticed and known?” “Does he still love me?”
It might sound funny to you because you adore your wife. But if she’s like 82% of women, those questions are very likely the hidden cry of her heart.
While you were dating, you may not have overtly realized it, but you were probably doing everything you could to answer those questions well every day. You were trying to make her feel special, known and loved. You called her and asked how her day went. You listened when she got emotional about the baby in the NICU ward that her team couldn’t save. You noticed when she seemed a bit quiet after you arrived late for dinner, and pressed in to ask, “What’s wrong?” All those things say “You are special. You are known. You are loved.”
But if you are goal-oriented, after the wedding you may have thought, Ok, deal done! and stopped sending that “you are known” message every day. Instead of noticing something and pressing in to figure it out, you may have begun to mentally shrug and think to yourself, I don’t know what is going on, but I guess she’ll tell me if it’s something I need to know. In the meantime, I’m sure I can pull something from the freezer for dinner . . .
In other words, without ever realizing it, you may have stopped meeting one of her deepest needs.
Which brings us to the most foundational reason she wants you to read her mind.
Truth #2: When you seek out what matters to her, without being told, you are signaling how much you love her
Because your wife or girlfriend probably has that inner vulnerability, she may be longing for you to seek out what matters to her as a way of soothing that vulnerability. When she doesn’t tell you something, it may be because—subconsciously or consciously—she is hoping you will care enough about her to figure it out. (Will he notice I had such a hard week and ask if he could take the kids and let me sleep in? Or Will he notice I’ve been a bit sad lately and ask what would cheer me up, like a girls’ night out?)
This may seem like playing games. It may seem like “she’s testing me.” All of which may drive you nuts. But that’s not what is going on. Because it is not a game. Down in the deep places, her heart is truly asking, “Does he really care enough about me to want to know me?”
After all, flip the script on this. Do you have an underground vulnerability about whether you are good at those things you do for your wife or girlfriend? Do you ever, subconsciously or consciously, look for signals that she appreciates or admires what you do for her? For example, do you ever mow and tend to the lawn while hoping she will care enough to notice, without being told? (Will she notice that I was out there for three hours in the heat and made everything look nice?) Are you hoping that she will drive back in the driveway and go, “Oh! It looks amazing! Thank you for doing that!” And if she doesn’t, do you ever get a bit frustrated or sad? (And if you are trying to handle this desire in a healthy way, do you ever go looking for the affirmation if she doesn’t naturally give it? Like: “Did you notice anything about the front yard?”)
Is that a game? No. What you are looking for is the exact same thing that your wife or girlfriend is looking for: a message that will speak to the insecurity in your heart.
Now, we should make clear: It is not your responsibility to “make your wife feel good about herself.” Just as it is not her responsibility to do that for you. That is not what we’re talking about. But it is an opportunity to care for the other person’s heart in a way that will really matter.
Truth #3: When you routinely seek out what matters to her, her vulnerability will arise a lot less often
There is great news here: Your efforts to discover what matters and “learn” her every day will build a true security under the surface of her heart. Her vulnerability may never fully go away—just as yours may never fully go away—but you can build a sense in her that she really is special and known and loved. After all, 18% of the women on our survey said their husband sent those signals so well, that they truly no longer questioned whether they were loved.
So how do you get there? That leads to our fourth and final truth.
Truth #4: Seeking out what matters to her emotionally, is just as important as providing for the family financially
The most important habit for you to start with is what we covered in the first piece about how to read her mind: Talk with her. Ask her what is going on in her life. Encourage her to process out loud (if she is that sort of person), and then listen.
It will help if you leave enough energy at the end of the day to do this for your wife—who is, after all, the most important person in your life. You may default to pouring more attention into your job in large part because you assume your wife is secure and your job is not. But now you know: that isn’t necessarily true.
If you’ve been saving only crumbs of energy and attention for your wife, it is almost certainly not because you don’t love her but because you are thinking, “This shouldn’t be necessary.” After all, you likely feel that one of your primary callings is to provide for your family, financially. As important as that is, it is even more important to pursue the deep need of your wife to be known and loved.
So here’s a starting point: For the next week, listen to and observe your wife or girlfriend as you ask about her day. And send daily signals that you still love her. That will help you to rediscover your delight in pursuing her, continue to “learn” her—and become the provider of the love that matters most.
This article was also published at Patheos.
Check out the online courses of Shaunti’s research and teachings at SurprisingHope.com.
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