A friend recently confided in me about how upset she was at her girlfriend for texting an ex-lover. During their ensuing argument, she desperately wanted to feel a closer connection, but instead she gave her girlfriend the silent treatment. Talking it over, we noticed a contradiction: desiring closeness, yet remaining silent. She wanted to be understood by her girlfriend without having to put her needs into words!
As a therapist, I have found that this is one of the most common struggles couples face, and like many relationship struggles, it probably has roots in childhood. People first develop their ability to communicate as infants, nonverbally expressing themselves via cries, smiles, facial expressions, and so on. Some theories suggest that a baby does not even see itself as separate from its caretaker in the beginning. Since it feels they are one entity, the baby believes that when it needs something, the parent knows what it wants intuitively. As an adult, having one’s needs met without voicing them feels profoundly reassuring because it reflects our deepest yearnings from infancy.
It makes sense why this fantasy to have someone intuit our thoughts is so common, but it can also wreak havoc in all kinds of relationships. As my friend experienced, conflict can easily arise when we assume others can read our minds. The reality is that language is the best we’ve got. It’s the only way we have to convey our ideas, thoughts, emotions, and needs to one another. Good therapy can help us learn to put our thoughts, feelings, and needs into words–and thus help us connect more fully with those we love and those who love us.
By Jessica Sardas