I know what you’re thinking

Human relationships are built on trust. Think about it. Can you really have a relationship with someone you don’t trust? After all, it is possible to meet someone and make small talk and get to know the person, but most people don’t share their innermost thoughts, feelings, plans, and dreams with strangers. Most people share them only with the people who they are the closest to. They share them with parents, siblings, spouses, and best friends.

Sometimes people cannot even share important thoughts with the people they are the closest to because it doesn’t feel safe. By safe, I mean that they don’t feel as if the other person will really listen and take them seriously. They don’t believe the other person will really understand.

One thing that gets in the way of close human relationships is the other person’s assertion that he or she “knows” what the other person is thinking. Now think about it: if someone already thinks that they know what you are thinking, doesn’t it make your telling them kind of trivial? Or worse, maybe what they “know” is not at all what you are thinking. Maybe they are attributing motives, thoughts, beliefs, and ideas to you that are far from what you are actually thinking. In fact, once someone “knows” what you are thinking, they often will tell you that you are wrong. You must be lying to them. They know what you “really” are thinking and what you “really” mean. How close can you get to someone who believes they know your innermost thoughts? I’m not sure that you can ever get very close at all because their “knowledge” stops them from listening.

In fact, the rather than feeling understood, a person whose thoughts are able to be “read” feels uncertain and confused about the relationship.

Normally, in a relationship we worry about our thoughts and feelings and the thoughts and feelings of the other person. In a relationship where someone’s mind is being read, he needs to worry about his thoughts and feelings, the thoughts and feelings of the other person, and the thoughts and feelings that the other person ascribes to him. Often he must defend himself against alleged hostility, anger, lasciviousness, and ulterior motives, none of which may reflect his true thoughts and feelings.

Many people believe that if they are very close to another person, they should be able to know what the other feels and thinks. However, there is a difference between the relationship of two human beings, each of them a complete person and a fusion of two incomplete human beings into a whole. That fusion may feel very good and comfortable for a while, but sooner or later, people begin to feel as if they have lost the essence of themselves.

When people tell me that they can’t understand their spouse, I sometimes ask them if they truly understand themselves. Usually the answer is “no.”

The benefit of allowing the other person his/her own thoughts and feelings without being second-guessed is that in the sharing of these thoughts and feelings in a relationship, there is the opportunity to really listen and to pay attention and to empathize and show caring. A real relationship involves relating as a whole person to another whole person with distinct thoughts and feelings. It involves listening to understand what that person is thinking and feeling and how he or she is experiencing life. In fact, not “knowing” what the other is thinking is the key to really finding out.

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