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Jul 5, 2013

The Art of Mind-Reading, Part I

By all means marry; if you get a good wife, you'll be happy. If you get a bad one, you'll become a philosopher.
While Socrates’ quote is humorous and perhaps even something to which we relate, but I’m not sure I agree. Or perhaps I should say, not all philosophical thinkers have bad wives. I like to believe I think “deeply” as would a philosopher – and I have a great wife.
Of course, I also understand that how well I get along with my wife is proportional to how well I can read her mind. That’s not a slight on her, by the way. It’s a credit (or demerit) to how well I pay attention to her needs.
I imagine most husbands have made the claim “I’m not a mind-reader” at some point in their marriages. And it seems to be true that most wives keep quiet about what they actually want or need from their spouse - probably out of fear of becoming a nag. This can build up anger and resentment. The answer from most men’s view is “Just tell me what you want!” – not a great response to a problem which already lacks clarity.
One of the best examples I know which really grasps the male perspective on this touchy topic comes from the movie, The Break-Up, with Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston. There is a scene where they are arguing over the dishes, but really she’s expressing a much deeper need.
In the film, Brooke tells Gary she wants him to help her with the dishes. He responds with something like “Okay, what are my duties? Give me a list of things I’m supposed to do.” Brooke counters with it not being about a list but rather she wants him to recognize it ahead of time and wants him to want to wash the dishes. Okay…here it is, most men's view on mind-reading! Gary's retort: “Why would I want to wash the dishes?!”
Gary focused on the task and not the emotion need Brooke was expressing. He totally missed her point. She wanted to feel like he cared and that although he obviously wouldn’t want to wash dishes but that he would recognize she didn’t either and lovingly offer to do that out of kindness and compassion for her. Further, she wanted to share their experiences, both good and burdensome (as dishes are). She wanted him to want to spend that time with her. Brooke didn't really want him to want to wash the dishes; she wanted him to want to spend time with her, to help her and to validate her importance.
Most men probably just glazed over when reading that last paragraph. I understand. How are we possibly supposed to get that out of a request to wash dishes? However, let me switch up the scenario and I believe it will be clear:
The day is over. Husband and wife are in bed. He’s feeling a little frisky and asks if she’s interested. “Okay, I’ll do that. Just let me know when it’s over,” the wife responds. While there may be a few extremely shallow men who wouldn’t care, I believe that response would hurt the feelings of most husbands. He might even explain “I don’t want you to act like it’s something you have to endure. I want you to be attracted to me, to be excited by me, to want to have sex with me!” Of course, imagine the emotional double-punch when her response is: “Why would I want to have sex with you?!”
The dishes don’t look too bad from that perspective now do they, men? Perhaps that allows us to better understand how our wives feel about the kitchen and our effort (or lack thereof) concerning it.
The truth is we need to learn to read our wives' minds. Another truth is we will never become experts at doing so. And yet another truth is about me personally; I am barely even a novice in this art.
Nonetheless, I think there are many things I can do in my marriage to improve my mind-reading skills. Much of it begins with the idea I introduced in my last post, What’s the Count and Where’s the Play?
I’ll continue with my thoughts on this in the next post.

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