By: Patti Langlais, Registered Marriage and Family Therapist.  
The human mind is an incredible and complex machine It absorbs and processes an enormous amount of material every second and can recall and use that information with often little effort. One of the primary ways our brain is successful in doing this is by automating familiar information. Think of learning to drive. As a new driver we spend so much time and energy focusing on all the new information barreling at us…its exhausting. In the beginning stages we are consciously seeing and reacting to the environment and learning habitual manoeuvres. Over time, and more importantly through repetition, these complicated processes become automated and before we know it we are driving and focused on other things.

Committed relationships can be similar in the learning and automatizing aspect. At the beginning of courtship our partner is new and exciting and our brain is consciously focused. It’s as if we are studying and downloading all the ins and outs of our partner and the uniqueness of them. As like driving, our brain is working hard to automate all this new and exciting information, as if to be able to predict their thoughts, feelings and behaviours so we can focus on others things. Sounds great, and from the perspective of energy and concentration efficiency it is. There, however, lives the couple brain trap. The misperception that we “know” who our partner is. Through familiarity and experience we feel we can almost predict how they think and feel. Worse yet the assumptions we then begin to make on their behalf. Not only do we make assumptions, which in of itself is never a good idea, but we additionally begin to place expectations on each other. This communication breakdown is a breeding ground for the conflict and hurt feelings in the relationship.

So if this process is natural and automatic, and really an important aspect of how we function, how do we not let it compromise the quality of our relationships? A starting point is simply slowing down and being mindful that although you likely know a great deal about your partner, especially after many years together, they are a separate person and ever evolving. Stay curious and wanting to know what they think and feel rather than assuming when possible.

If you are finding yourself disappointed or frustrated with your partner perhaps check in with yourself and your expectations of them. Did you actually discuss what you need and want from them or is it expected they should just know? It can feel validating when our partner knows what we need or want and that sense of knowing can create a feeling of love and closeness. Just use caution to ensure you communicate and advocate for your needs.

Our lives and responsibilities can have us running full speed in our life, increasing the risk for communication breakdown, unfair assumptions or unspoken expectations. Open, loving, and honest communication is the cornerstone to a successful relationship.

Patti Langlais, M.A
Couples & Family Counsellor