What is the Golden Rule?
We’ve all heard about the golden rule, right?
If you didn’t hear it directly from your parents’ mouths, then you surely learned about it from a teacher, or a preacher, or perhaps a random old person in the street.
The most commonly used version of the golden rule, at least when I was growing up, was this:
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
It ain’t new
This basic concept of treating others as oneself would wish to be treated is considered the ‘ethic of reciprocity’.
It’s been around for thousands of years. And whilst there are different variants of the concept, the same principle is referenced in all the major religions.
Here are a few examples:
“Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.”
– The Buddha, Udana-Varga 5.18
“In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you.
– Jesus, Matthew 7:12
“Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself.”
– Confucius, Analects 15.23
“This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.”
– Mahabharata 5:1517
“What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour.”
– Hillel, Talmud, Shabbath 31a
But you shouldn’t always trust the golden rule – here’s why
I can acknowledge that the golden rule is a pretty decent guiding principle for life.
Particularly when you are dealing with new people, or perhaps someone you don’t know very well, then treating someone the way you would like to be treated is a great place to start.
Let’s be honest, if everyone lived by this one rule, then the world would be a much happier place.
So I don’t mean to dis the golden rule. It still has its place!
But unfortunately, when it comes to relationships with people you know well, especially someone you know as intimately as your partner, then I’m here to tell you that the golden rule doesn’t cut it.
And here’s why…..
That which floats your boat does not necessarily float your partner’s.
What I mean by this, is that treating your partner the way YOU would like to be treated is not always the best option. Instead, you would be better off treating them the way THEY would like to be treated.
Case in point
In my relationship, whenever Christmas, birthdays and anniversaries come around I get quite stressed. I really don’t enjoy shopping for gifts.
Now, it could simply be that I’m a tight-arse who doesn’t want to spend the money. Some may agree with that statement.
Personally, I like to claim the more honourable title of being ‘non-materialistic’ 🙂
Whatever the reason, I find the whole process unnecessarily stressful.
And because of this, I put it off until the last minute, which often means I don’t produce a very good gift.
I’ve hit the jackpot a few times. But there’s also been plenty of last-minute phone-ins. It often ends with an online gift voucher or something even less creative like a bunch of flowers.
Not surprisingly, this has sometimes resulted in my partner feeling, well… not particularly loved!
My partner, on the other hand, is a professional gift giver. She spends months in the planning, researching and shopping for a gift. And she always manages to come up with something original.
A lot of effort goes into it and I know it’s really important to her.
If I’m honest (and I’ve told her this, so I can share it with you), whilst I appreciate the effort she’s gone to, it doesn’t really make me feel loved. I’d rather she didn’t buy me a gift and instead just told me she loved me.
Meanwhile, when I’m trying to show my partner that I love her, I’ll often try and do it by simply telling her directly and honestly. I’ll try to use words of affirmation. I’ll tell her what a great partner she is and why I think she’s amazing.
But much like the gifts that she’s been giving me – the words get noticed, but they don’t have the desired cut through. They aren’t making her feel loved.
Can you see the problem here?
We both have good intentions. We are both trying to show the other person we love them. But we are going about it the wrong way.
We are speaking to them in our language, not theirs.
The 5 love languages
This concept of different love languages is explained in a book by Dr Gary Chapman.
After years of working as a marriage counsellor, Dr Chapman concluded that there are five different ways that people experience emotional love.
The 5 love languages are:
- Words of affirmation
- Quality time
- Receiving gifts
- Acts of service
- Physical touch
According to Chapman, all individuals have a natural preference for one of these languages. It’s the language in which they prefer to receive love.
And usually, when we try to express our love for someone else, we default to our own preferred language, because, you guessed it… that’s how we would like to be treated!
Love tank theory
The second theory covered in Chapman’s book is an even simpler concept to understand. It’s called the love tank theory.
The way to think of this is that each person in the relationship has a love tank. During a normal relationship, we are constantly making both deposits and withdrawals into each other’s love tanks.
Deposits are made through positive actions or signs of love. And these deposits can be communicated in any of the five languages mentioned above.
They could be small gestures, such as a shared experience or a positive interaction. Or they could be more significant actions. It’s pretty much any form of positive energy being injected into the relationship.
Withdrawals are also a normal part of any relationship. They can be obvious things like having an argument, forgetting an important date or blaming your partner unfairly. Or they could be more subtle behaviours or interactions that cause your partner to feel slightly less loved.
Whilst it’s normal for love tanks to go up and down as part of a relationship, Chapman suggests that the secret to achieving long-term relationship success is to ensure both partner’s love tanks are maintained at a healthy level, so they are both feeling loved.
Obviously, the more loved each partner feels, the more they reciprocate, and it, therefore, triggers a cycle of positive energy.
How these theories work together
Both these theories are incredibly simple concepts to grasp. The reason it’s important to consider them in conjunction is that when it comes to deposits and withdrawals, the relevant love language can have a multiplier effect.
So if you are trying to show your partner you love them, it’s going to have the biggest impact if you can do so in their love language.
And likewise, if you’ve ever wondered why your partner is so upset about something that seemed unimportant or trivial to you, it could be that it’s highly important in their primary love language.
In summary, both deposits and withdrawals are multiplied based on the relative importance of the love language in which they are communicated.
How to apply these theories to your relationship
Step one: Learn about yours and your partner’s love languages
If you are in a long-term relationship, you’ve probably got a pretty good inkling of what your partner’s love language may be.
But have you also thought about your own love language?
How self-aware are you of what makes you feel loved?
Chapman suggests three questions that can indicate your own primary love language:
- What does your spouse do or fail to do that hurts you most deeply? The opposite of what hurts you most is probably your love language.
- What have you most often requested of your spouse? The thing you have most often requested is likely the thing that would make you feel most loved.
- In what way do you regularly express love to your spouse? Your method of expressing love may be an indication that that would also make you feel loved.
There’s also an online quiz that you and your partner can complete, which will give you a more comprehensive explanation of your preferred love language, along with a relative ranking of each one.
- Before you send your profile to your partner, make sure you explain what you are doing and ask them to complete the survey for you as well, so that you can better understand how they feel love 😉
- Only complete the survey when you are feeling calm and relaxed. If you do it whilst angry, or trying to prove a point, you will distort the results.
Step two: Pay attention to both your love tanks and check-in regularly
Now that you have a common language to use, make sure you are checking in with your partner regularly to ask them how their love tank is tracking.
Likewise, don’t be afraid to speak up when your tank is a little low. It’s a great way to share your feelings and admit vulnerability. Something we men are not typically good at.
It may feel a bit corny or forced at first, but you’ll get used to it. And you are going to be together for many years, so it’s worth some short-term discomfort to get this part of your relationship thriving for the long-term.
It’s also important to notice how things change over time. I know in our case we have recently re-done the survey and both our profiles have changed quite a lot over the past few years.
So don’t assume these languages are set in stone. Relationships evolve and so do the individual partners.
The ‘new’ golden rule for relationships
Okay, I’m not suggesting that we throw away two thousand years of wisdom instilled in the original golden rule. It’s still a great principle to live by.
In fact, I’m certain I’ll catch myself quoting the golden rule to my kids one day.
However, when it comes to relationships, what I’m suggesting is that we need to evolve the rule. Give it a bit of a tweak.
Something like this perhaps?
Do unto your loved one as
you would have them do unto youthey would prefer you do unto them.
By taking the time to understand each other’s love languages, we can help improve the level of communication in our relationships and ensure we are keeping each other’s love tanks well fueled.
Over the lifetime of a long-term relationship, this is going to make things a lot easier and a lot happier for both partners.