Many of us have been taught the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you wish to be treated. It's quaint and useful as a general tool and, oh, wouldn't it be wonderful if the world actually operated according to this philosophy? When deciding where to leave your grocery cart in the parking lot, this is helpful guidance for making a pro-social choice. Interpersonally, it doesn't hold up as well.
I've heard versions of Golden Rule-thinking come up in all of my counseling experiences. At school, students would often try to resolve peer problems by doing the thing they didn't like right back to the person who did it first. "How do you like it?" is thought to be a really powerful lesson. However, no recipient of this treatment ever looked at the ground sheepishly and replied, "You're right, that was a rotten thing to do. I'm sorry, I'll never do it again." That's the desired reaction, but it NEVER actually happens! Except maybe on the "Brady Bunch", sigh.
Intimate partners often say to each other, "I would never do that to you" in an effort to get the other to admit they did a jerky thing and that they themselves wouldn't appreciate if the tables were turned. But that strategy often falls flat. The human ego and survival instinct seem to prevent us from reflecting on ourselves in this way, especially during a moment of tension. Another downfall of this technique is that it rests on the assumption that our preferences are the same and that we respond similarly to stimuli.
I call relationships between partners with different neurological types "neurodiverse relationships". One partner may function neurotypically and the other may fall on the autistic spectrum or have ADHD or another condition affecting their neurological processing, or both partners may function at different places on the neurological spectrum. These styles heavily influence the way people communicate, how they experience and show emotion, and how they respond to touch and sensation, among other traits.
In this field, we acknowledge that people absorb and process information differently. The "telephone game" gives us a concrete example of how messages can change according to the way they are heard and shared. We use the term "filter" to describe the unique way a person interprets information they receive from others. We all have filters based on our personal life experiences and emotional and psychological functioning. When we add a layer of neurodivergence on top of standard communication dynamics, things get even more complicated.
Due to our filters and interpersonal dynamics, it is wise to recognize that the way one person prefers to be treated may not be the same for another, thus rendering the Golden Rule inappropriate. For example, one person might really like a hug when they feel sad, but another might prefer quiet companionship with no physical contact. If the first person follows the Golden Rule to the letter and approaches their sad friend with arms wide open, they will get a response they weren't expecting. Then that misunderstanding and surprising response will lead to new thoughts and perhaps confusion and hurt feelings.
Treating others according to our own personal beliefs and preferences fails to acknowledge each individual's unique needs and personality.
This knowledge can help couples understand one another better and more consistently create satisfying experiences. It is actually not reasonable to assume that others want to be treated the way I want to be treated, at least without more information and open communication. As a society, we've come to embrace the Love Languages and know that different people have different ways of giving and receiving love. People are also unique in their preferences around communication, personal space, home maintenance, gift-giving, and all other aspects of shared living.
Partners can help themselves by asking about and attending to their partners' personal preferences and needs. Assuming they want the same things is a fallacy that does not create the harmonious existence most couples crave. Viewing all preferences as valid and finding ways to compromise so that both partners get some of what they want is the most functional path toward fulfilling interdependence.
This is someone else's writing. I like it so much I'm posting it here for your reference.
Love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image… otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them. –Author Unknown
There is probably not a culture on earth that values the ideal of long-term love and marriage as much as Americans. While more than 90 percent of young adults aspire to marriage, fewer and fewer are choosing it because as a country and a culture we have the highest rate of romantic breakups in the world. Although we generally think about our relationships in very personal terms, it may do us well to consider the cultural values that provide their context. Media and advertising shower us with both a plethora of choices and the inherent message that we are entitled to the best; always with the goal of achieving and improving our happiness. Consequently, and perhaps even inadvertently, many of us are continuously in a self appraisal of our emotional wellbeing and personal life, driven by the erroneous idea that there is always another choice available that would make us happier.
This entitlement to the happiness belief system has silently infiltrated our expectations and practices within our relationships. More and more we expect our relationships to meet and even predict our emotional needs, which, because we are ever more vigilantly watching them, is an impossible task. Even worse it is fueled by focusing on and trusting the least stable aspects of our day to day personality, which are as momentary and changeable as are the ups and downs of living together.
Human relationships, romantic and otherwise, are rife with disappointment, alienation and even experiences of emotional betrayal. As we increasingly measure our relationships by their capacity to meet our needs, the missteps and hurts that accompany all long- term relationships are mistakenly interpreted as grounds for termination. In our minds, they take on the magnitude of tragedy and even abuse. Combined with our fantasy about the unlimited choices available, many of us hold the idea that there must be someone better for us out there (a la, Chemistry.com). The net result is that we often throw away perfectly good relationships that may well need work, only to find ourselves in the very same relationship, now called by some other name.
I always tell people who want to get into a relationship to think about 2 or 3 qualities that they want a relationship to bring to their life, and to consider what they are willing to give up in exchange. Some people scoff at me, believing that because they can envision their perfect mate, they will find him. I am here to say that the widely sold soul mate fantasy does not exist. We are all a unique mix of imperfect qualities and attributes that make us simultaneously lovable and annoying. Embracing the possibility of a successful long-term relationship refocuses the quest for the ideal partner back onto us.
The only person you can ever really hope to change is yourself. By refocusing your attention on your own capacity to partner and connect, you automatically change the nature of the relationship itself. A loving relationship is the safest place for you to redefine and improve the kind of partner that you can be. Approaching your relationship as the active and continuous improvement process of communicating and negotiating is a bold rewriting of the script.
Wendy Strgar, owner of Good Clean Love, is a loveologist who writes and lectures on Making Love Sustainable, a green philosophy of relationships which teaches the importance of valuing the renewable resources of love and family. Wendy helps couples tackle the questions and concerns of intimacy and relationships, providing honest answers and innovative advice. Wendy lives in Eugene, Oregon with her husband, a psychiatrist, and their four children ages 11-20.