It’s Not According to the Golden Rule

April 04, 2011

My clients, particularly the couples I work with, are often surprised when I speak about the Golden Rule. I will often say – with apologies to anyone whose religious convictions may be upset by what I am about to say – that it is not living according to the Golden Rule that is the way people often want to live. It is not about treating someone how you want to be treated. Rather, it is about treating others how they want to be treated.

At the heart of many relational problems is just that: treating others how you want to be treated. An acknowledgement of difference is key here. People are in fact different and want to be treated differently. One couple I worked with illustrates this. The man liked to be told by his wife what she had done in terms of making improvements in their relationship. In particular, he was more bothered by messes and clutter in their home than she was. So he liked to hear at the end of the day that she had straightened up before he got home. She, however, did not. She did not want to hear what he was doing in the name of harmony. She was particularly bothered by instances where he would express aggravation. She often found these expressions to be critical. So while she could appreciate efforts he was making to censor such expressions, she didn’t necessarily want to know about it.

In the above example, the woman wanted to be treated as she wanted to be treated. In this way, it wasn’t so much about the Golden Rule. It was about – what should we call it? — The Human Rule: Treating someone like they want to be treated. Again, without any disrespect to people whose religious convictions may embrace the Golden Rule, I have found that this modification can make a world of difference in the world of relationships.

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