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Why Your Partner Can't "Just Know" What You Want, From A Marriage Therapist

Kelly Gonsalves
April 25, 2023
Kelly Gonsalves
Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor
By Kelly Gonsalves
Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor
Kelly Gonsalves is a sex educator, relationship coach, and journalist. She received her journalism degree from Northwestern University, and her writings on sex, relationships, identity, and wellness have appeared at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.
woman unreceptive to physical affection from male partner
Image by AleksandarGeorgiev / Istock
April 25, 2023
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"If I have to tell him to do it, then there's no point."

Ever heard someone say something like this about their partner when talking about something they want from them? Or maybe you yourself have felt something along those lines in a relationship.

It might sound like:

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  • "I shouldn't need to tell him to be more affectionate with me."
  • "She should know that I would be bothered by her talking about our private life with her friends."
  • "Of course I want him to plan a big surprise for our anniversary. How could he not know?"
  • "If I ask her to care more about my hobbies, then it won't be authentic. I want her to just naturally take an interest."

In a recent conversation with mindbodygreen, marriage therapist Maria Sosa, MFT, shared why she strongly discourages this line of thinking and why it can actually be detrimental to a healthy relationship.

Why you shouldn't expect your partner to "just know"

As the examples above demonstrate, many people operate under the assumption that a good partner will be able to instinctively know what you want, how you feel about certain things, and what would make you feel loved. According to this line of thinking, you shouldn't have to tell your partner how to care for you—because if they're the right partner for you and they truly love you, they will "just know." If you have to directly tell someone to do something meaningful for you, then it's not worth it because they clearly don't care enough to do it themselves without being asked.

But Sosa says there are flaws in this line of thinking. "A common, socially constructed narrative that we have about relationships is that being able to anticipate our partner's needs is a sign of love," she explains. While it sounds nice, she notes this is akin to "expecting others to read your mind."

That's because, firstly, what each of us wants out of our relationships and our partners will vary significantly. One person might highly value big, romantic gestures from a partner like big surprises and public displays of affection, while others might not care much at all for that sort of stuff. One person might see sharing hobbies with a partner as very important and meaningful to them, while others don't really see that as a requirement for a satisfying relationship.

Our needs and preferences can also change depending on the context or over time, Sosa adds. "As humans, we are in a constant state of fluctuation. One moment we need emotional comfort; the next, concrete steps and solutions."

No matter how much your partner might love you, expecting them to correctly guess every single preference and need you have, as well as how you'll feel about any given situation that comes up, isn't reasonable or realistic.

"Expecting our person to decipher our internal workings (the ones even we have a hard time making sense of!) can set us up for disappointment and ultimately resentment," says Sosa.

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Trading in expectation for communication

It can be humbling but also somewhat freeing to recognize that what you expect from a partner might not be the same as what everyone expects. Acknowledging this truth allows us to recognize how fruitless it is to assume your partner will "just know" what you want from them, and it allows us to release the frustration and resentment toward them when they don't.

Instead of expecting your partner to be naturally, perfectly aligned with all your thoughts and needs, Sosa encourages couples to move toward communicating openly about these things.

"Stop expecting others to read your mind or just 'know' what you're thinking or feeling," she writes at mbg. "Set the relationship up for success by having open and ongoing conversations about individual and relational needs."

Care a lot about your partner making big plans for your birthday? Let them know in advance that birthdays are important to you and that gifts is one of your love languages. Feel sad when your partner doesn't text you back fast enough? Instead of assuming that it means they don't care enough about you, share your feelings so they know how their texting habits make you feel and can make reasonable adjustments.

(Now, if they aren't able or willing to meet your needs after you've directly told them what they are, that's a separate conversation.)

The takeaway

We can't expect our partners to be mind-readers. And instead of using their guessing abilities as a litmus test for how much they love us, we can create much more satisfying relationships for ourselves when we actually enable our partners to be the best partner they can be for us, by openly communicating about the things we want, need, and feel. 

As Sosa puts it, "Good relationships require intentionality; they don't just happen."

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Kelly Gonsalves author page.
Kelly Gonsalves
Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor

Kelly Gonsalves is a multi-certified sex educator and relationship coach helping people figure out how to create dating and sex lives that actually feel good — more open, more optimistic, and more pleasurable. In addition to working with individuals in her private practice, Kelly serves as the Sex & Relationships Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and she’s been trained and certified by leading sex and relationship institutions such as The Gottman Institute and Everyone Deserves Sex Ed, among others. Her work has been featured at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.

With her warm, playful approach to coaching and facilitation, Kelly creates refreshingly candid spaces for processing and healing challenges around dating, sexuality, identity, body image, and relationships. She’s particularly enthusiastic about helping softhearted women get re-energized around the dating experience and find joy in the process of connecting with others. She believes relationships should be easy—and that, with room for self-reflection and the right toolkit, they can be.

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